In any given year, Mercy’s more than 3,000 volunteers log hundreds of thousands of hours in service to communities across Mercy’s footprint. But for more than a year, some of those efforts came to a halt because of the pandemic. While some volunteers continued to knit baby caps for newborns from home and assist in some vaccination clinics, most were unable to do the jobs they love. Now, as COVID-19 cases hit new lows, volunteers are eager to get back to work and serve.
“Consumers have reached out recently asking when are resuming our volunteer program,” said Jennifer Laupp, senior manager of CRM campaigns at Mercy. “After a year of pandemic lockdowns, people are ready to be out of their homes and give back to their communities.”
In Fort Smith, volunteers returned last summer with some modifications because of COVID-19. Jenni Powell, manager of volunteer services at Mercy Fort Smith, said the pandemic changed volunteer opportunities because of the hospital’s policy changes. Hours at the information desk changed to better reflect current visitation hours, for example.
Volunteers currently do not have one-on-one contact with inpatients but stay busy escorting outpatients to their appointments and making deliveries of flowers and other items being dropped off for hospitalized patients. Mercy Fort Smith has a great need for these types of volunteers, Powell said.
Mercy volunteers throughout locations in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma include teenagers who want experience in the medical field, seniors who want to stay active and people with disabilities learning job skills, as well as others just looking to give back to their community. Volunteers can commit to as little as one hour a month to as much as 40 hours a week.
In Fort Smith, volunteers are always needed in the hospital's surgery and emergency department waiting areas, wheelchair roundup, gift shop and more. Hours are flexible, and most volunteers work four-hour shifts as a time, although some choose to work longer or shorter shifts, Powell said. To be considered a full-time volunteer, Mercy requires 16 hours of volunteer work per month.
Becky Brotherton has volunteered at Mercy For Smith since 1981. She was encouraged to begin volunteering by her aunt and has continued serving in Fort Smith for the past 40 years. She was recognized in 2019 for her lifetime total of 19,241 hours, a number that has continued to grow.
“I enjoy being with people,” she said. “I’ve got so many friends here.”
Brotherton works twice a week, and her duties include “a little bit of everything,” including as a patient escort.
Ryan Keefer began volunteering at Mercy Fort Smith as a teenager in 2014, working every day during the summer and anytime he was out of school. He now works at Mercy as a certified nursing assistant in the inpatient oncology unit and as an emergency room tech. Both departments were his favorite units in which to volunteer.
Learning the aspects of the medical field was a great experience for Keefer, who calls volunteering at Mercy "the best decision I made as a teenager."
“Each day brought something different,” he said. “You get to interact with different people on a daily basis. It also prepares you to gain knowledge in the medical field.”
Keefer said anyone considering volunteering should start out with “an open mind and heart.”
“Some days are a struggle but well worth it. Be positive,” he said.
The benefits to volunteering are numerous. In Fort Smith, Mercy volunteers receive discounts at the fitness center and gift shop, meal allowances and various appreciation gifts throughout the year, including gift cards and meals and gatherings during the holidays.
Volunteers also contribute behind the scenes at Mercy. At Mercy Fort Smith, volunteers create handmade cards to deliver to hospitalized veterans, which staff members sign. They also make birthday and thank you cards as well as cards for holidays to be delivered to both staff members and patients.
Powell said the opportunities available for volunteers make them feel fulfilled and needed, and many develop lifelong relationships through their service.
To learn more about volunteering or to fill out an application, visit mercy.net/practice/mercy-volunteer-services-fort-smith or call (479) 314-6679.