RIVER FALLS, Wis.
Volunteer greeter Virginia Ducklow knitting one of the baby caps she donates to the Birth Center.
A welcoming smile. A friendly word. A listening ear as they walk a concerned family member to a patient's room.
This is the difference that the volunteers at River Falls Area Hospital make daily to patients and family members as they navigate what can seem like an intimidating health event or diagnosis.
National Volunteer Week falls April 12-18 and for River Falls Area Hospital, it's a time to pause and appreciate the contributions that volunteers make daily.
During Volunteer Week, hospital volunteers received a small token of appreciation along with a note of thanks from hospital president David Miller and Allina Health CEO Dr. Penny Wheeler.
"I would guess that most, if not all, of our patients and visitors have an encounter with a volunteer or a program supported by our auxiliary members when they visit us here on campus," said Miller, president of River Falls Area Hospital, part of Allina Health. "The foremost statement in our mission as a health care organization is this: 'We will put the patient first.' Our volunteers enable us to do that in meaningful ways every single day and we thank them sincerely for that."
Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation for volunteerism, with more than one-third of residents reporting that they volunteer in their community. That's 1.61 million citizens, contributing 163.8 million hours of service and $3.7 billion of services. Last year, 30 volunteers at the hospital donated 3,600 hours of time.
Virginia Ducklow is one of River Falls Area Hospital's front desk volunteer greeters. When she's not welcoming patients and visitors or guiding them to their destination, she can often be found knitting caps for the babies born in the Birth Center.
She got involved with the volunteer program at River Falls after she experienced the difference a volunteer can make when she, herself, was a family member navigating the health system during her husband's hospital stay. One episode that stood out to her was the day her husband was transferred from River Falls to United Hospital in St. Paul for care.
"I walked through the doors at United Hospital and I am sure I looked like a deer in the headlights," said Ducklow. "This gentleman volunteer walked me all the way to my husband's room. At a time like that, that was the best thing he could have done–he was very pleasant and kind."
When she heard a few months after her husband's death that River Falls Area Hospital was seeking volunteers, she thought it was a way she could pay it forward, by bringing similar acts of comfort and kindness to her local hospital. The hospital is always looking for additional volunteers, to help provide a friendly face at the front desk and interact with patients and families.
"Each of our volunteers has been led here through a different path, but each and every one is making a positive impact in the lives of our patients, their families, and our community," said Erin Jennings, coordinator of the volunteer program. "Our volunteers are the personal connection that is so appreciated in the hospital environment. Each of them–from ambitious young adults seeking exposure to the healthcare field to recent retirees seeking something meaningful to fill quiet days–is contributing time, knowledge, skills, experience, and energy and for that we are so thankful."
Anyone interested in volunteering at River Falls Area Hospital can call Erin Jennings at 715-307-6029, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit allinahealth.org/RiverFallsVolunteer and fill out the online application. Most schedules and availability can be accommodated.