At the conclusion of its second year, Mercy’s Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program continues to have a positive impact on local communities. More than 2,171 co-workers donated a total of 12,790 work hours across a four-state area, including Arkansas, while participating in this program. By the end of 2023, Mercy estimates 2,300 co-workers will have served more than 13,500 hours.
Mercy’s VTO program began in January 2022 and allows co-workers time to volunteer during work hours at local nonprofits or community events and still get paid their normal salary.
“It’s wonderful to see how our co-workers value their VTO hours,” said Ayanna Pierce, Mercy vice president of benefits and talent relations. “Mercy is full of diverse individuals who are dedicated to their work and community, which is the true spirit of Mercy. We know it can be challenging to find time to do traditional volunteer service and we’re excited to support our co-workers by providing them this additional benefit.”
During Mercy's Week of Service in March, co-workers in Fort Smith took part in a variety of events, including at the Riverview Hope Campus, where Mercy has a primary care clinic, and the Good Samaritan Clinic, which will soon move to a new location donated by Mercy. In addition, Mercy co-workers pitch in monthly to serve dinner at the Community Rescue Mission in Fort Smith.
"Volunteer time off is a great way for our Mercy co-workers to connect with the communities they already serve," said Father Paul Fetsko, vice president of mission for Mercy Arkansas Communities. "We have had a great response from co-workers when volunteer opportunities arise, not just in Fort Smith but in our rural communities as well."
Northwest Arkansas co-workers have taken part in assisting multiple nonprofit organizations throughout the year, including the Samaritan Community Center, the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank and the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. One nursing team recently spent several of their VTO hours volunteering at Cobblestone Farms, a local nonprofit with a goal to alleviate hunger through sustainable farming. The Mercy volunteers spent several hours cleaning out greenhouses to prepare them for next season’s planting and assisting with other tasks.
Katelyn Beckmann, manager of nursing services for the cardiac unit at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas, helped plan and participate in the service project.
“We try to plan a team-building experience every few months, and we love using VTO as a way to get together and do something different than our typical work,” said Beckmann. “For this project specifically, our team really wanted to get outside in the beautiful weather and do something meaningful. Farming is so different from nursing, and it was great to bond as a group over new and interesting work.”
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 preapproved by a co-worker’s leader.
“This specific project felt like a cycle that keeps giving to everyone involved,” Beckmann said. “We helped clean up the greenhouses, and in return, our service will allow the farm to continue serving those who are most at need in our community. Ultimately, it makes Northwest Arkansas a better place for all of us.”
Co-workers can provide a wide range of meaningful service through the VTO program. 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.
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 into their community to help others and follow in Catherine’s footsteps.
“The communities where we work and live support us in our mission to provide compassionate care to all who come through our doors,” said Pierce. “We are so grateful to give back by encouraging our co-workers to serve together through volunteer work.”