They wear it well: 'Pink Ladies' and 'Red Coats' give from the heart

February 21, 2011 10:41:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


In the volunteer lounge at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, a huge simulated check hangs on the wall, filled out in the amount of $463,869.52. No, it''s not a windfall from Publisher''s Clearing House. Nor does it signal an extravagant contribution from a donor. Rather, it represents the dollar-equivalent of service hours and funds unselfishly given in the previous year by almost 100 members of the hospital''s Volunteer Auxiliary. 


They''re instantly recognizable, these women in their coral-pink smocks and men in vibrant red jackets or vests. The Pink Ladies and Red Coats range in age from mid-30s to mid-80s and hail from a wide variety of backgrounds. But one thing they all have in common is a caring heart. 


"We love our volunteers; they do so much," praised Martha McGahey, the hospital''s coordinator of volunteer services. "And it makes them feel good, too. That''s why I like my job; they want to be here. It''s that joy of giving." 


Fred Bell is the current president of the Auxiliary Board of Directors. He''s a familiar face to many in the Golden Triangle, having worked most of his career at Ruth''s Department Store in downtown Columbus. He''s well-known, too, around the hospital, especially in the Emergency Department, where he''s often facilitating admittances and providing a friendly face, as well as a gentle joke when the occasion warrants. He''s volunteered since 1997. 


"My philosophy has always been if you live in a community, you should be part of that community," he stated. "Columbus has been good to me, and it''s payback time. Some people may be in a position to give a lot of money (to something they care about), but if you can''t, you can give your time," Bell said with conviction. 


And give they do, with a ready smile. 


"We always say, ''If you''re not happy to be here, you need to go home,''" past board president and 15-year volunteer Barbara Richardson said with a light laugh. 




Willing hands 


Working at least one day each week for a four-hour shift, auxiliary members staff the front desks and deliver flowers, newspapers and mail to patients. They man phones, assist with wheelchairs and provide comforts and conveniences to patients and families. They own and operate the gift shop and conduct fundraisers that benefit hospice care, as well as the overall patient population. 


Some are retired. Others have careers, but still make time to serve on a regular basis.  


"For example, we have a school teacher who comes in to help in the critical care waiting room on weekends," McGahey cited. "And one of our volunteers works in a retail gift store four days a week. A lot are self-employed." 




Beyond the obvious 


Auxiliary contributions extend far beyond what most hospital visitors may assume. 


The BMH-GT volunteers have furnished 18 guest rooms in the hospital, set aside for families with loved ones in the Intensive Care Unit. They have also expended about $60,000 for Stryker stretchers, which make patient transport markedly easier for ambulance crews. 


They''ve provided flat screen televisions in the cancer center for patients undergoing treatment, handsome scripture plaques in each patient room and in public areas, and give out $2,500 scholarships annually to area high school seniors entering medical fields of study, among other projects. 


"If a department head has a special need that''s not in their budget, they might bring it to the auxiliary board," Bell explained. All requests are evaluated from the perspective of how it will help patients. 






If the patients benefit, so do auxiliary members.  


Richardson sometimes thinks volunteering may have saved her life. 


"After my husband passed away, I was hunting something to do. It gave me a purpose. And we feel like we''re contributing something to the community," said the former owner of The Paint Store, now operated by her son, David, on Main Street, Columbus. 


Richardson''s retail experience is put to good use managing the hospital gift shop and its inventory. Like the others, she''s found camaraderie within auxiliary ranks. "We look after each other," she smiled. 


"Oh, I love this; it''s just my extended family," added longtime volunteer Bettye Jones. "I''ve gotten to know them all, and I love every one of them." 


For Harold Weeks, as for many of his fellow volunteers, giving of himself is therapeutic. He assists in the intensive care unit waiting room, a place that holds deeply personal memories. 


"My wife was in the ICU in 2007. They were so good to us," he shared. "When she passed away, I felt I should do a little something to give back to them. I can sympathize with the families because I went through it myself." 


Throughout the Golden Triangle, hospital volunteers know a friendly face, a compassionate word or considerate gesture can help ease the way for everyone who enters the doors. Being able to make patients and their families even a little more comfortable unites them in their benevolent mission.  


"You know," said Bell, "kindness is a gift you can''t give away -- it always comes back to you."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.