By Ellis Kmetzsch
The holidays are a season of gratitude and giving, and Mercy co-workers can now give work time to service activities all year long, thanks to Mercy’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program. The VTO program allows co-workers to volunteer at local nonprofits or community events and still get paid their normal salary.
Mercy’s VTO program started in January 2022. Eight hours are granted to co-workers at the start of each calendar year. The hours can be spent consecutively or in separate volunteer activities pre-approved by a co-worker’s leader.
“This program’s effect is two-fold for co-workers,” said Dr. Alice Mankin, vice president of primary care at Mercy Clinic Oklahoma. “Service in the community betters the places where co-workers live and work, but it also blesses the lives of those who serve. It’s a really wonderful experience.”
Dr. Mankin is part of a team of Mercy co-workers and leaders who volunteered during a workday at the Oklahoma City St. Luke’s mobile market program, which provides free produce, meat, dairy and meals to those in need.
The Mercy team worked with local St. Luke’s volunteers to unload produce and other goods from refrigerated trucks during one of the hottest Oklahoma summers on record. They then packed the items into food boxes and passed them out to people driving or walking through the pickup location.
“It was hot and sweaty work, but very rewarding and fun,” said Dr. Mankin. “The labor we did is different than what we typically do together in a clinic or office, but it became a team-building experience to volunteer in this type of setting.”
Another co-worker who participated in Mercy’s VTO service opportunity was Cody Elliott, director of operations for Mercy Clinic in Oklahoma City.
“We often work with patients in local Mercy clinics who experience food insecurity, but it is different seeing it in person,” said Elliott. “It felt especially meaningful to be able to volunteer during a normal workday and actively meet a need in the community.”
The team initially was going to postpone their volunteer plans until the hot summer weather passed. “I’m glad we didn’t delay this opportunity,” Elliott said. “We personally saw that hunger doesn’t stop just because it’s July and hot outside. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience.”
Co-workers can provide a wide range of meaningful service. Other opportunities include serving meals at a homeless shelter, cleaning up a section of a road or highway, walking dogs at a local animal shelter and more.
"Our co-workers make a difference at Mercy,” said Barb Grayson, chief of workforce experience at Mercy. “And through our VTO program, they also make a difference through community volunteer efforts."
The VTO program allows co-workers to continue the spirit of giving demonstrated by Mercy’s foundress, Catherine McAuley, who established the Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland. Her framework for charitable work guides Mercy’s mission and values today. With this program, co-workers can go out into their community to help others and follow in Catherine’s footsteps.
“Having the opportunity to volunteer during work hours shows that we practice what we preach at Mercy,” said Elliott. “It demonstrates that the values we talk about at work are not just words on paper. Co-workers really do live the mission of Mercy.”