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Volunteering: Try it, you'll like it


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One of the perks of being a Beaumont Hospital volunteer is a free meal. Another perk is making friends. From left, Joan Watts of the City of Grosse Pointe, Rodger Sulad of Grosse Pointe Farms and Jean McKeehan of Harper Woods. McKeehan has been a volunteer for two weeks and said she had a lunch date after a week. photo by Ann L. Fouty.

January 23, 2014
Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part series on improving health and lifestyles.

Whether delivering meals, interacting with patients and clients, stuffing envelopes, answering the telephone or providing suggestions to improve services, volunteers are revered by organizations' management.

"I have never seen people give so much and ask for so little in return than our volunteers," said Rick Swaine, president of Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe.

Swaine meets with a small group of volunteers once a month seeking suggestions on how to improve the hospital's efficiency.

"We are a fresh pair of eyes," Grosse Pointe Woods resident Fred Sahadi said.

The staff was asking Sahadi, a retired NBD employee, about the ideas he pitched to Swaine only two days earlier.

Swaine continued, "I have had the opportunity to work with our volunteers for the past six years. They are a dedicated group of individuals who bring unique backgrounds and talents to our hospital. Our volunteers come to the hospital and work their assignments because they truly want to be here and give back to the community. They are part of the team that is essential to the overall operations of this Grosse Pointe hospital."

There are three reasons volunteers spend time at Beaumont, said Betsy Schulte, the hospital's volunteer coordinator. The connections they make, to make a difference and give back.

"They touch every department," she said of volunteers who range in age from teens to seniors and streamline the hospital's details, including transporting patients between departments, visiting patients and making deliveries of cards and bouquets.

For the young people who volunteer, it's an opportunity to be introduced to a possible career choice, Schulte said.

"It's a great way to give back and learn. How am I with those skills? They get a lot of guidance here. The staff helps them on a positive career path," she said.

Three hundred volunteers help keep the hospital on track, but there are thousands of volunteers throughout the Grosse Pointes donating their time to schools, non-profits and clubs without a thought of payment.

"I'm giving back to the community and making friends," said longtime volunteer Rodger Sulad of Grosse Pointe Farms.

"This is so rewarding," said Tina Calisi of Grosse Pointe Woods and a Beaumont volunteer for seven years. "I do work at the front desk. When patients enter the hospital, we greet them with a warm smile. It's very important to me to smile, to be helpful."

Services for Older Citizens is another nonprofit benefitting from its 500 volunteers, ranging in age from 7 to 91.

"Our agency could not run without them. The volunteers provide over 47,000 hours of service to our agency each year," said Sharon Maier, Services for Older Citizens executive director.

"The main opportunity SOC offers volunteers is a chance to make a difference in their own community," Maier said. "There is a wide range of opportunities for individuals to get involved in. The volunteers find their work very rewarding.

"We have a group of ladies who makes blankets for children and seniors and they often comment on the friendship and purpose that volunteering gives them. The young people who volunteer for us love the chance to take on responsibility and help."

Scientific support

Scientific research has long supported the two-way relationship between happiness and general well-being — that is, happiness is often symptomatic of good health, but happiness also contributes long-term to one's physical resilience and immune response, said Rev. Ben Van Arragon of First Christian Reformed Church, Grosse Pointe Park.

"You are most likely to find 'a purpose and meaning outside yourself' when you're engaged in the lives of other people," he said. "We are most deeply happy when we are contributing our resources — time, energy and ability — to a cause that improves the lives of other people. Helping cultivate a neighborhood garden; packaging food for Gleaners Food Bank or Forgotten Harvest; building or repairing homes with Habitat for Humanity — these are all activities that are not only challenging and absorbing, but intrinsically rewarding because they're done for others.

"Even if you're skeptical about the personal benefits, you'll have made your part of the world a better place. The evidence strongly suggests that will do more for your health, and eventual happiness, than doing nothing — which is what many of us are tempted to do this time of year."

Kimle Nailer, a Harper Woods High School Winning Futures mentor, supports that thought by saying: "There is nothing more rewarding than to see my mentees open up and share about themselves and their goals. It is also life-changing to witness them put their plans in place, and have confidence that they can achieve them. It helps us all keep believing in what's possible."

The 20-year-old organization has more than 250 volunteers from various careers sharing their work experience and instilling the importance of education. Mentors are matched with three teens based on gender and students' career interests. They meet one hour a week for 12 weeks.

More than 95 percent of students participating in the program go on to higher education, said Ken Elkins, program and marketing director of the organization that began in Warren.

"Winning Futures has made me a better person and allowed me to make a difference in the lives of some special kids who deserve to succeed in life and who now have the tools and confidence to do so," said mentor Lee Shelby, Harper Woods High School Winning Futures.

New Beaumont volunteer Jean McKeehan of Harper Woods said there should be no hesitation to offer a few hours a week.

"This is a supportive environment," she said.

"Try it," Sahadi said.

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