Volunteering a way of life for many
In the volunteer center at Baystate Franklin Medical Center are Dot Cary of Greenfield, Alecia Carmody of Shelburne Falls and Becky George of Greenfield.
Volunteer Ron Weaver at BFMC next to the white boards he updates in patients rooms. Recorder/Paul Franz
David McElligott works out on a stationary bike while volunteer Alecia Carmody of Shelburne Falls looks on at Baystate Franklin Medical Center. Recorder/Paul Franz
Davis McElligott of Greenfield works out on a stationary bike at the BFMC whuile volunteers Steve Hastings and Alecia Carmody look on. Recorder/Paul Franz
GREENFIELD — Eighteen-year-old Alecia Carmody of Shelburne Falls has always known she wanted to help people.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember,” said Carmody. “I wanted to expose myself to what that would entail, so I began volunteering at the hospital two to three years ago.”
Carmody is one of about 300 volunteers who work, without pay, at Baystate Franklin Medical Center.
Some work up to five days a week, while others work just a few hours each week, according to Becky George, manager of BFMC Volunteer Services.
“You realize that as much as you are helping people, they are helping you learn more about yourself and teaching you how to become more comfortable with yourself,” said the future neo-natal nurse who is attending Greenfield Community College and deciding where she will go to nursing school.
George said she spends a lot of time recruiting, orienting, training and guiding the hospital’s volunteers, who do everything from comfort family members in the emergency room to work in the hospital gift shop or relax patients who have been admitted by chatting with them about the weather, their lives, or anything else they’d like to talk about.
National Volunteer Week began Sunday and runs through April 12. The national celebration recognizes people who do extraordinary things through service and without pay.
George said volunteers at the hospital range in age from 15 to 90.
Carmody said she began volunteering on the “spokes,” the different floors or departments of the hospital where patients are admitted.
She said from there she applied for and received an ambassadorship. In that intensive program for high school students, she said she spent some time in every department and was able to view a surgery. She said ambassadors really learn what it would be like to work in the medical field.
“Most of all, I’m here to be supportive in whatever way I can,” said Carmody.
She said some of the most rewarding experiences for her have been in the maternity ward.
“I stayed with a woman in labor once and talked with her through it,” said Carmody. “I was there for her and when it came time for her to get a C-section, because her baby was presenting posterior, she asked if I could be there for the birth because she said I was part of her team.”
Carmody said that was a special and extraordinary moment.
She said another time she sat for hours rocking a baby who was born to a mother who was a drug addict.
“I just held and rocked that little girl, who was going through withdrawal herself,” she said. “She was solely dependent and it felt so good to help her.”
Carmody said she has gone home many times and said, “This was the best day of my life.” She said then she’d volunteer the next day and go home and say, “No, today I had the best day of my life.”
Ron Weaver, 68, of Greenfield said he has been volunteering in the hospital’s emergency room and on its spokes for the past two years.
“I decided to volunteer because I wanted to do something in retirement besides sit around on the porch,” he said.
Weaver volunteers two days a week.
“I work in two very different environments,” said Weaver. “In the emergency room, things happen much faster.”
Weaver goes from room to room in emergency, making sure patients and their families are comfortable.
“We volunteers do the things that nurses and doctors don’t have time for, so they can concentrate on taking care of their patients,” he said. “It makes a patient’s stay a lot better.”
Weaver said at the end of each day he not only feels like he was able to help, but also feels appreciated, needed and useful.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said.
George said about 180 volunteers wear blue coats, which means they are working on spokes or in the emergency room. The rest, about 120, wear pink coats, which means they are working in the gift shop.
She said most volunteers live in Franklin County, but a few are from outside the borders.
“This is a labor of love for volunteers,” said George. “They are doing what we’ve all been taught — the Golden Rule — to treat people like we want to be treated.”
George said volunteering not only helps those in need, but gives volunteers the opportunity to meet new people, learn, build relationships, build a sense of community and bring some kindness into the world.
“What I have observed is the quality of conversation between our volunteers and our patients,” said George. “It truly makes a difference.”
Carmody and Weaver said the hardest parts of the job are losing someone and leaving the day behind.
“You have to concentrate on the successes,” said Carmody. “You have to learn from the people you’ve been able to help, and the ones you haven’t.”
Weaver, a former science teacher, said when he puts on his blue jacket, he’s a member of the BFMC world. He said when he takes it off at the end of the day, he’s back in his own world.
“You have to do it that way or you’d go crazy,” said Weaver.
George said volunteers work different shifts. She said they are in the hospital seven days a week — only at the front desk and in the emergency room on weekends.
Shifts run from 8 a.m. to noon and noon to 4 p.m. in most instances. She said emergency room shifts sometimes run a little longer. There are volunteers in the emergency room from 7 in the morning until 11 at night.
George said some volunteers have volunteered as many as 3,000 hours during their tenure.
“We are always recognizing our volunteers, but we’ll be doing some special things this week, including a volunteer recognition breakfast on Friday,” said George.
Dorothy Cary, 71, of Greenfield, who worked as a home health aide and homemaker for almost a quarter-century, said she has been volunteering for more than a year.
“I really enjoy the work,” she said. “It gives me something to do and I enjoy being helpful. I do whatever needs to be done.”
For more information about volunteering at BFMC, contact George at 413-773-2318 or email her at: