Volunteers in Action
Have you ever wondered what volunteers do during their shifts at Mayo Clinic Health System? The tasks vary, but each of our volunteers make a difference in the lives of our patients, family members and staff.
Read their stories to learn just some of the ways they make a difference every day:
Donna S., Menomonie
Helping patients, visitors get where they need to go
"My name is Donna, and I have been a volunteer in Menomonie since 2014. When I volunteer, I help out at the information desk near the clinic entrance. I answer any questions that patients and visitors may have, including where a patient can find a department or the lab, as well as other questions. I’m always glad to help give directions. When I am not answering questions, I do a variety of other tasks, such as assembling folders for expectant mothers, and providing wheelchairs to incoming patients and pushing them to where they need to go.
One of the greatest things about volunteering is meeting and helping people. It is a heartwarming experience to talk to and help visiting patients. I especially enjoy visiting with new parents, babies and young children who visit the clinic. Everyone who visits has a story, and it has been great getting to know my community members through volunteering.
If someone were to ask me about volunteering at Mayo Clinic Health System, I would highly encourage him or her to sign up and give it a go. Volunteering makes me feel good, because I know that I am helping my neighbors. Sometimes, my help may not seem like much, but in that moment, it is a great deal of help to the patient. The saying “you receive more than you give” really is true when I volunteer. In addition to making a difference in the lives of patients, receiving a free cup of coffee and a meal when I volunteer is a plus.
Volunteering has been a fun challenge for me. I have been asked questions at the clinic that I never would have expected. For example, not only have I helped visitors with questions about the clinic, I also have answered questions about local restaurants and where someone could service their car. One time, a little girl asked me if I wanted a hug. Of course, I said yes, because I always love hugs. No matter what the question may be, I am always more than willing to help. Volunteering continues to bring a smile to my face and helps me to make a difference in my community.
Like Donna, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Esther Swan, Barron
Remaining active and social among volunteering benefits
When Esther Swan retired from her job as a serologist in 1997, she set out to find opportunities that would allow her to meet new people and get out of the house. Esther visited the hospital gift shop in Barron and realized that it would be a great place to volunteer. She applied to be a volunteer and began working within days. Since then, Esther has been a consistent volunteer, often putting in more than 500 hours of work per year.
Esther volunteers in many different ways to ensure that things run smoothly in Barron. In the dining room, she serves as a cashier during breakfast and lunch. She also helps with transporting patients in wheelchairs and running the gift shop. In the past, Esther planned bingo games for senior citizens in the nursing home.
In her spare time, Esther enjoys solving puzzles and watching game shows. She also volunteers at the local thrift store where she “enjoys finding great deals.” She says that volunteering has been great for her health and that it allows her to meet new people.
“Everyone is so friendly at Northland,” Esther says. “Everyone knows me by my first name, which makes me feel very appreciated and useful.”
Connie Dennis, Volunteer Services, says that Esther is a joy to have as a volunteer.
“Esther goes above and beyond to help our patients, visitors and employees,” Dennis says. “She is so reliable, always willing to fill in for open shifts and does everything with a positive attitude. I just don’t know what we would do without our Esther.”
For many retirees like Esther, volunteering helps with remaining social and staying active. Esther encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering to “go ahead and go for it.” Volunteers must be 14 or older. All ability levels are welcome.
Eugene Gagnon, Eau Claire
Paws Force: Offering a helping paw to patients in need
My name is Eugene Gagnon. I began volunteering in Eau Claire in June 2016. My dog, Bernie, and I volunteer together on the Paws Force team. Paws Force is a pet therapy program at Mayo Clinic Health System that provides animal-assisted therapy to patients in need of comfort or a smile. Therapy dogs can brighten a patient’s day and aid in healing for those suffering from illness or injury.
Bernie is my nearly three-year-old golden doodle which is a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle. A fun fact about Bernie is that he was born on Valentine’s Day in 2014. Bernie is friendly, well-behaved and loves meeting new people of all ages. In order to be a therapy dog, Bernie and I completed the Therapy Animal Program through Pet Partners and the Therapy Animal Handler course. We will be recertified every two years.
Bernie and I love visiting patients at the hospital in Eau Claire. On Thursdays, Bernie and I visit various patients during our one-hour shift. We visit anyone in need of a smile or a friendly chat or discussion. Sometimes, Bernie is the main focus of the visit. Patients can pet Bernie and talk to both of us. This allows me to get to know each patient through Bernie.
Other times, Bernie listens along while the patient and I talk; sometimes, patients just need a listening ear. Although we are still working on different tricks, Bernie knows how to sit, lie down and shake. At the end of our visits, I give each patient one of Bernie’s business cards. It’s a great way to get patients to smile!
During two recent visits, I felt Bernie made a significant impact on people's lives.
One day, a lady stopped us in the hallway of the hospital and asked if Bernie and I could make a visit to her mother’s room. She told me that her mother loves dogs. Of course, I said yes; that's the reason why we are here! We followed her to her mother's hospital room. As we entered the room, she announced to her mother and other family members that Bernie the therapy dog was here to make a visit. When her mother spotted Bernie, she gave out one loud squeal of delight. As we approached the bed, the lady put her hand out and Bernie snuggled right up to her. As the two of them continued to touch, I introduced Bernie to her and told her a little information about him. I didn't notice that she wasn't responding to me, but she kept looking at and touching Bernie. When I looked up at the family members, all had tears coming down their cheeks. At that moment, I didn't understand what was going on. After a while, I announced that it was time for Bernie and I to leave. Everyone in the room was thanking us for coming. The significance of our visit became much clearer when we got out into the hallway and a group of nurses had gathered outside the door. When they heard the loud squeal that came from the lady’s room, it turned out that this woman had not made any sounds for a very long time. Bernie had triggered something in her, and the family was overjoyed.
Another day, I received an email from Volunteer Services asking for a therapy dog visit to a terminally ill woman. When we arrived at the hospital room, we were greeted by the daughter who explained to me that her mother loves dogs, and she thanked us for coming. When we entered the room, I found the patient lying on her side in the bed, so weak that she couldn't turn around and greet us. We walked around to the other side of the bed so Bernie could face her directly. She could barely move or talk, but she managed to stretch her hand out towards Bernie. I pulled the chair next to the bed, and they sat face to face. At that point, they were both able to see each other. Bernie nuzzled up to her hand and gave her a few licks, and she took her finger and touched his nose. The daughter and I watched this for about 20 minutes until her mother fell asleep. At that point, Bernie and I excused ourselves and left the room. It wasn't until the next week that one of the nurses told me that the lady had passed away later that day, and the family was very appreciative of our visit. I thought to myself, “Wow, Bernie and I were able to grant somebody's final wish.” What an honor and a privilege!
My favorite part about volunteering on the Paws Force is making someone’s day a little brighter with Bernie’s help. Dogs are nonjudgmental, calming and help get your mind off a bad day. Bernie is a very important part of my life, and we hardly are ever separated. To be able to work with Bernie to help those in need is a truly amazing experience.
Like Eugene, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System on the Paws Force team. Therapy dogs must be friendly, well-behaved and complete several levels of obedience classes. The organization also is in need of volunteers in other areas. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Fred Menz, Menomonie
From professor to volunteer: Menomonie resident volunteers to serve others
My name is Fred Menz, and I am a volunteer in Menomonie. Before I retired from academia in 2005, I was a professor in vocational rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie. At the university, I directed a national research center focused on disability and employment. I also collaborated with Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic in Rochester to conduct efficacy research and develop materials to improve employment for those with traumatic brain injury. These efforts had nationally recognized impact and spanned more than a dozen years of collaboration.
I’ve always worked hard and remained deeply committed to my profession. When I fully retired in 2015, I wanted to do something that would allow me to have a direct impact on people in my community. I decided that volunteering would complement my varied interests, help me stay active in retirement and meet new people. For the past two years, I have volunteered in Urgent Care and the Emergency Department in Menomonie. At the information desk, I interact with visitors, answer questions and offer assistance to people in wheelchairs.
My favorite part of volunteering is offering comfort to those in need of reassurance. Oftentimes, visitors of Urgent Care and the Emergency Department are worried and hurting. I try to give encouragement, a bit of humor and comfort to those in need. Sometimes, just being there with a listening ear or a calming touch lets people know that I, and the organization, care.
Volunteering has allowed me to build relationships with both visitors and staff. Menomonie has many regulars, so I have started to look out for them, recognize them and check to see if they may need a wheelchair or other assistance. Volunteering also has allowed me to get to know many staff members. I am consistently inspired by the finesse and care they provide to patients. I strive to match their level of Mayo care through my volunteering.
In addition to volunteering, I participate in Menomonie’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee. In this capacity, I offer input from a community member’s perspective. Interacting with patients and staff through volunteering helps inform my input and advice on the effectiveness of services. Over the years, I have enjoyed forming a personal connection to Mayo through participation with the committee and volunteering. I also appreciate the organization’s commitment to meeting Menomonie's health care needs.
Volunteering allows me to give something of myself to others. I enjoy having the opportunity to apply my smile and a helping hand. I think that the organization’s mission can be captured in this tagline: “Lead with kindness and serve with competence.”
Like Fred, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Gloria Berg, Osseo
Osseo retiree volunteers to bring a smile to patients
My name is Gloria Berg, and I live near Osseo, Wisconsin. I enjoy baking, bird watching and spending time with family in my free time. I also volunteer at the information desk at Mayo Clinic Health System – Oakridge in Osseo.
Before retiring, I worked at Whitehall Memorial High School in Whitehall, Wisconsin. I worked in the main office doing a variety of work, including helping students plan their class schedules.
After retiring, I decided to look for something to do in my free time. Since I have always enjoyed helping others and meeting new people, I knew volunteering in Osseo would be a great fit for me.
For the past three years, I have volunteered at the lobby information desk. I greet patients and visitors, answer questions, give directions, and provide wheelchairs and pushing assistance to patients.
I enjoy volunteering because it gets me out of the house and gives me something to look forward to each week. Volunteering helps me stay social in retirement, and allows me to help people in need of assistance.
One thing I look forward to each week is visiting with my community members. I want to let patients know that I am there for them if they ever need help. I like providing company to others, especially to those who may not receive much person-to-person interaction throughout the week.
If you are interested in volunteering, I encourage you to give it a try. For me, volunteering is satisfying. It allows me to interact with others and cheer people up. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to be nice to others.
Like Gloria, you, too, can be a volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Jan O'Neill, Menomonie
Showing kindness to others
My name is Jan O’Neill. I have been a volunteer in various capacities at Mayo Clinic Health System – Red Cedar in Menomonie since 2002. Before retirement, I worked as a nurse for 35 years in several departments at Red Cedar. During that time, I also served as patient care administrator and collaborated with Volunteer Services on various projects. I served as president of the volunteer auxiliary and chair of the West Central District of Partners for the Wisconsin Hospital Association. I currently volunteer on Red Cedar’s hospital board from a community member perspective.
I volunteer in the gift shop in Menomonie. I am responsible for cashiering, as well as providing service to visitors. I particularly enjoy helping visitors select the perfect gift for any occasion. Some visitors have something specific in mind, while others aren’t quite sure what they want. Since I am familiar with the gift shop’s merchandise, I enjoy giving visitors ideas and pointing out gifts they may like.
After retirement, I really missed patient contact at the hospital. However, volunteering gives me the opportunity to interact with patients once again, form friendships with community members and provide an important service to others.
When people ask me why I volunteer, I tell them it keeps me active and provides me with support from colleagues. In my opinion, volunteering is important because I am able to save the hospital money for wages while providing a vital service for patients and visitors. I especially enjoy the camaraderie of hospital volunteers and staff.
For me, volunteering is an act of kindness for others, especially for those who may be grieving or having difficulty in life. One story from volunteering I have involves a young woman who came into the gift shop looking to buy a charger for her cell phone. Unfortunately, the woman did not have enough money to afford one because she was homeless.
I figured a phone charger couldn’t be too expensive, so I decided to buy one for the woman. When I gave it to her, she began to cry. She said she had never received a gift like that in her life. This is a great example of why I volunteer. Volunteering is an opportunity to do an act of kindness for the day, which is very fulfilling for me.
If you are interested in volunteering, I encourage you to give it a try. With so many types of volunteering available, there is an opportunity to fit each person’s individual interests. All experience levels are welcome. Volunteer Services is excellent at placing you in an appropriate position. Hours are flexible, and it is a great way to give back to your community.
Like Jan, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Eau Claire volunteer comforts visitors in Critical Care Unit
My name is Janet Amundson. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, traveling, spending time outdoors and visiting with family. I also enjoy volunteering once a week in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) in Eau Claire. While volunteering, I interact with visitors, restock linens and beverage supplies, keep waiting rooms clean and make coffee.
I first decided to become a volunteer after having several back surgeries, including a spinal fusion, in the 1990s. This experience inspired me to volunteer with spinal fusion patients in the Neurology Department. After taking a few years off due to family commitments, I discovered that the Critical Care Unit was in need of volunteers. I decided the time was right to come back and volunteer.
One of the best parts of volunteering is helping families who are navigating through stressful situations. I try to make visitors feel more comfortable by offering helpful information, including restaurant or hotel suggestions. Other times, I direct families to social workers or chaplains for help with difficult decisions.
Families may feel vulnerable when they have a loved one in the CCU. I can be the eyes and ears in the waiting area to help people connect with these resources. Sometimes, visitors just need a person who cares and listens. I can be that person.
I believe growing up on a farm in Iowa has given me useful skills to use when volunteering. I can identify with guests from small farm communities. I feel this gives me credibility with families from outside the immediate Eau Claire area.
This year will be my 10th year of volunteering in the CCU. Throughout the years, I have enjoyed developing relationships with families in the CCU. As a grandmother of four, I enjoy assisting parents in the waiting area by providing crayons, coloring books, toys and puzzles for their children.
I encourage all who are interested in volunteering to give it a try. With multiple types of volunteering available, there is an opportunity to fit each person’s individual interests. For me, the greatest perk of volunteering is the satisfaction I get from being able to help brighten someone’s day. I have enjoyed developing great friendships with my fellow volunteers over the years, as well.
Like Janet, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Ken Ripp, Eau Claire
From teaching to volunteering: Finding a way to help others during retirement
After 33 years of teaching at Memorial High School in Eau Claire, Ken Ripp found volunteering to be a seamless transition for him in retirement. As a volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, he is commonly called Mr. Ripp during his shifts by former students who are now employees or patients.
Ken has been a STEP Force volunteer for nine years at the Luther Campus in Eau Claire. As a volunteer, his primary responsibility is to transport and escort patients throughout the clinic and hospital. Answering patients’ questions and helping them to feel less anxious brings him the most satisfaction.
“Helping patients feel comfortable and relaxed while I guide them to where they need to be is my favorite part of STEP Force volunteering,” he says.
In addition to working directly with patients and staff, STEP volunteers also perform tasks such as delivering bed linens, delivering medical supplies and prescriptions throughout the hospital and clinic, and transporting instruments to and from central processing to numerous departments. “Each day I am impressed by how grateful the staff are for the duties we perform for them. It seems as though we are one supportive team,” he says. Ken also praises his Tuesday and Thursday STEP Force teammates. “They are all enjoyable people, and we have become friends. We support each other, and they even put up with many of my so-called jokes,” he says.
Ken encourages people who like helping others and being active to volunteer at STEP Force. “It is common to walk anywhere from four to six miles in a four hour shift,” he says. “But the energy you get from giving is all you need to make it happily through each shift.”
Like Ken, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Nancy Nix, Barron
Giving back to the community by volunteering
My name is Nancy Nix. I am a 70-year-old retired grandmother of 10 grandchildren. Before retiring, I worked for an engineering firm, an electric utility and a natural gas utility. I decided to become a volunteer in 2014 after my husband of 32 years needed surgery. The staff in Barron took such great care of him that, after he recovered, I decided to give back by volunteering. I currently volunteer in the gift shop and the surgery procedure areas. I also do clerical work for Volunteer Services.
Since I volunteer in several areas, I do a variety of tasks. In the gift shop, I help customers, ring up sales, stock shelves and more. In the surgery procedure area, I greet patients in the lobby, take them to their procedure room and make them feel comfortable. Once a patient is discharged, I accompany them to the lobby, disinfect the room, change linens and prepare the room for the next patient. In Volunteer Services, I enter data into the computer and help with any other projects that need to be completed.
I look forward to the days that I volunteer. I enjoy meeting new people, putting them at ease and assisting them in any way that I can. It takes little effort to brighten the day of an employee, patient or visitor; and, volunteering makes me feel good about myself. Employees will often go out of their way to let volunteers know how much they appreciate the help. I have even had patients thank me for volunteering, which makes the experience worthwhile.
Overall, being a volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System has been a wonderful experience for me. It has encouraged me to grow as an individual and get out of my comfort zone, as well as learn new skills and give back to the community.
Like Nancy, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Patty Schwoch, Osseo
Patty Schwoch, an Augusta, Wisconsin, resident, volunteers once a week at Mayo Clinic Health System – Oakridge in Osseo. Patty began volunteering in May 2017. As a patient greeter and transporter, Patty says she has a variety of responsibilities, including answering questions, providing directions and transporting patients, among others.
Patty says she decided to become a volunteer after finishing cardiac rehab in Osseo. She says she was approached by a volunteer who said her friendly personality would be a great fit for volunteering at the clinic. Patty says she decided to fill out an application in April 2017 and began volunteering shortly thereafter.
“People often describe me as a people person,” Patty says. “I feel that my passion for helping others has allowed me to have a positive impact on patients and visitors.”
Patty says her favorite part of volunteering is interacting with a variety of people, including patients, staff, visitors and community members. She also says she enjoys transporting patients.
“When I see a car pull up to the clinic doors, I ask the driver if their passenger would like to use a transport chair,” Patty says. “Then, I offer to help the patient get checked in.”
Patty recalls one day she felt she made a positive impact on a patient.
“A gentleman pulled up to the clinic and asked if I’d be able to bring a transport chair out to him as he parked his truck,” Patty says. “I was happy to help. I volunteer because it feels great to help those in need of assistance.”
Patty says that throughout the past year, she has enjoyed her volunteer experience. She encourages those interested in volunteering to give it a try.
“Volunteering is a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others,” Patty says. “Volunteering is enjoyable, easy to do, and gives me something to look forward to each week.”
Like Patty, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Shawn McMartin, Eau Claire
Volunteering to make a difference: Providing comfort to families and friends of surgery patients
For the past four years, I have volunteered at Mayo Clinic Health System once a week in the Surgery family waiting area, which is an interface point between patients, their families and the hospital. We answer incoming calls, give directions, relay admission information to area church congregations and keep families informed of their loved one’s surgery progress. We handle post-surgery consultations between the family and surgeon, and occasionally provide toys to keep young children occupied.
I love the problem-solving aspect of this position. It keeps my skills sharp and provides an outlet for me to give back to the community. When I volunteer here, I know that I am making a difference. Having personally been on both sides of the surgery process, as a patient and waiting family member, I know that it can be an unnerving process. The volunteers in this area work hard to help lower some of the inevitable anxiety associated with surgery. I am delighted when I can see that I’ve made someone’s day a little brighter.
While I have many wonderful stories from volunteering, one story comes immediately to mind. One day, a young man was waiting during his wife’s surgery. He looked bewildered as he awkwardly held their newborn in his arms. In time, the baby began to get fussy. I could see that the baby was hungry. The man told me his wife usually nursed the baby, and he did not have anything to feed her. Since the baby had just been born here, I was able to call the newborn nursery she had just been discharged from. They were able to provide a supplemental feeding for the infant. The relief that registered on the young man’s face was priceless.
Volunteering at Mayo Clinic Health System was a natural fit for me. I used to work in the Telecommunication Center at Mayo Clinic Health System – Red Cedar in Menomonie. My husband and I have been associated with area emergency medical services for years, so I feel comfortable in the health care setting.
Volunteering here has been a fulfilling way to stay sharp, keep busy and interact with the community in a constructive way. I know that patient families may not remember me, but I remember them. It is rewarding to finish a shift and go home knowing that my help has made a positive difference in someone’s life that day..
Like Shawn, you, too, can volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System. You must be at least 14 years old to volunteer. All ability levels are welcome.
Sylvia Haugen, OsseoOsseo resident volunteers to make a difference in patients’ lives
Retiree Sylvia Haugen, Osseo, Wisconsin, volunteers weekly at Mayo Clinic Health System – Oakridge in Osseo. Sylvia is a mother of two daughters and grandmother of six grandchildren. In her free time, Sylvia says she enjoys singing in her church’s three choirs, gardening, sewing, camping, doing aerobics and spending time with her husband and family. She also plays bass clarinet and clarinet in the Eau Claire Municipal Band, as well as in the pit orchestra for musicals.
Sylvia volunteers at the lobby information desk. She greets patients and visitors, answers questions, gives directions, and provides wheelchairs and pushing assistance.
Sylvia says she was involved with Mayo Clinic Health System before she became a volunteer. She says she once served as a histologist, a type of lab technician, in the nursing dorm at Luther Hospital. In this position, she prepared tissue samples in a laboratory setting and helped with autopsies.
After becoming a mother, Sylvia says she went on to become postmaster in Pigeon Falls, Wisconsin. While volunteering at the clinic, she says she often sees familiar faces from when she worked with the post office.
“I made many friends back when I was postmaster,” Sylvia says. “I enjoyed chatting with people and making them smile. Volunteering at the clinic allows me to continue those one-on-one conversations with community members.”
Sylvia says she decided to become a volunteer to offer a helping hand to others and make patients’ lives a little easier while at the clinic. She also says she became a volunteer to stay social.
“Once you are out of the workforce, I believe it is important to get out and socialize with others,” Sylvia says. “Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and interact with members of the community.”
Sylvia says volunteering allows her to offer friendly conversation and a listening ear to patients. She says she gets a boost of energy when she volunteers, especially when helping patients feel more comfortable and getting them to where they need to go.
“Volunteering is very fulfilling,” Sylvia says. “I encourage others who are interested to experience it too. Volunteering makes me feel happy and more energetic.”
Like Sylvia, you, too, can be a volunteer. Volunteers must be 14 or older. All ability levels are welcome.