Christiana Care volunteers find joy and inspiration as they lend a helping hand
Since Enoch Lee first began as a summer high-school volunteer at Christiana Care Health System, he has found many opportunities to learn and gain insights about his own life. During the past five years at Delaware’s largest hospital, the University of Delaware senior has helped families by escorting patients to their cars, playing a violin in the hospital lobby and working on meal preparation in nutrition services.
“I tell younger kids who volunteer to keep their eyes and ears open, because you never know what’s going to touch you.”
One highlight of his volunteering was cutting up ham and eggs for an elderly blind woman who came into the hospital depressed and withdrawn.
“As I fed her and we talked, I learned about vulnerability and meeting another person right where they are,” Lee said. “I tell younger kids who volunteer to keep their eyes and ears open, because you never know what’s going to touch you. The world needs more people to empathize with others.”
Lee has known for a long time that he wants to be a doctor. His volunteering at Christiana Care has affirmed his career path, but, more importantly, he says, the experience has enriched his life.
An unforgettable experience occurred recently when a young woman diagnosed with liver cancer decided to marry her fiancé in her hospital room. “She wanted to get married before anything bad happened, and I got a call four days before the wedding asking if I would help with the music,” he said.
As the ceremony began, and friends and relatives gathered around the bride’s hospital bed, he played background music on the guitar.
“It was so emotional — with an intense feeling of love and community,” he said.
After the exchange of vows, he played John Legend’s “All of Me,” singing the lyrics with the bride’s cousin.“I consider that the biggest performance of my life, and I was so grateful that I was asked to be a part of things,” he said. “I learned a lot that day about family and love and perseverance. And who would have thought this would happen all because I volunteered?”
Summer is a season when volunteering peaks at Christiana Care, as high-school and college students join the ranks of more experienced volunteers. This summer, 210 high-school students and 112 college students are lending a hand, alongside the more than 600 adult volunteers who serve year-round.
Many students are like Ashley Cook of New Castle, a junior at Padua Academy, and Saba Ali of Newark, a junior at the University of Maryland. Both are looking forward to careers in medicine and are volunteering at the advice of friends and relatives, who thought the experience would offer valuable insight into medicine as a profession.
“When I began, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to emphasize medical research,” said Ali. “One thing I’ve learned is that I like patient care, and I’d like to focus on that in my education.”
There are more ways than ever to make a difference in the lives of patients and families at Christiana Care. Volunteers cuddle new babies in maternity. They provide support for patients at mealtime through the SPOONS Program. They record non-medical patient histories to share with patients and staff through the Life History Program, serve as a greeters in the lobby to welcome and escort guests to their destinations, and act as Patient Relations Ambassadors to ensure every newly admitted patient is visited within 48 hours.
“For me, the volunteer program is really an extension of The Christiana Care Way,” said Margarita Rodriguez-Duffy, MSW, CAVS, director of Visitor & Volunteer Services. “As we serve our neighbors as respectful, expert, caring partners in health, our neighbors appreciate these efforts and give back to others, extending our mission in the community. From our youngest Volunteens to the most seasoned volunteers, they understand what we’re about and happily partner with us. Great ideas for helping patients and families surface as a result of this partnership.”
Christiana Care is fortunate to have so many people in the community who want to contribute.
“The impact on patients is seen throughout the hospital,” said Rose Wessells, manager of Volunteer Services. She has observed that many volunteers are looking for ways to give back to others out of gratitude for what they have received. They want to be engaged in service that is meaningful and provides comfort to others at a time of stress.
That’s certainly true of Dennis Christy of Warwick, Md., a retired General Motors auto worker who makes the 66-mile round trip from his home to Wilmington Hospital each week so he can assist teachers at the First State School. The school offers education to children with serious, chronic illnesses that make it difficult to attend a regular public school.
“It’s very rewarding — but this is not a monetary reward,” Christy said. “There’s an overwhelming spiritual blessing that comes from volunteering.”
As volunteer for more than 14 years, Christy regularly experiences what bioethicist Stephen G. Post, author of “It’s Good to be Good,” has called a “helper’s high.” “It feels great,” said Christy. “I wish everybody knew about it.”
Fran Tebbutt of Wilmington says that volunteering has a way of putting things in perspective and reminding people of how fortunate they are. In her case, if something is upsetting at home, it melts away on Wednesdays and Fridays when she staffs the hospitality cart. In this role, she takes the cart into waiting rooms where she offers beverages to family members.
Tebbutt remembers one man in the Emergency Department calling her “his angel.” It was a husband who had brought his wife in during a snowstorm in the middle of the night. He’d been sitting there wishing he could have a cup of coffee when Tebbutt appeared, offering one.
“You meet a lot of nice people under difficult circumstances, and sometimes you can offer a bit of comfort,” Tebbutt said.
To learn more about ways to volunteer at Christiana Care Health System, visit the Christiana Care Volunteer and Student Administration website.