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November 3, 2000
Volume 38, No. 6


Cuddling, choiring, caring: Hospital volunteers do it all
New peer support group points employees toward answers on work-related issues
Spreading the word on informatics
Arts in Brief
InSite: Volunteer Opportunities

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Cuddling, choiring, caring: Hospital volunteers do it all

UI staff volunteers often contribute in ways very different from the work they are paid to do

(left to right) Barb Ashbacher and Carolyn Murphy staff the patients' library. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

How did you spend your lunch hour yesterday? Take a walk? Go to a restaurant? Read a book?

You could have spent it cuddling a baby. Delivering reading materials to patients. Selling t-shirts in the hospital lobby to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network. These are a few of the tasks performed by volunteers in the UIHC Volunteer Program, many of whom are UI employees.

"This is a very rewarding job," says Mary Ameche, director of the program. "It’s wonderful being around people who choose to give their time."

Hospital volunteers come from four populations, according to Ameche. Junior volunteers are 14- to 18-year-old students who volunteer during their summer break. Several hundred college student volunteers participate, often as a step toward a health career. Community volunteers come from all over eastern Iowa and even western Illinois. UI staff volunteers come from jobs on both sides of the river to give of their time.

(left to right) Kathy Crow and Bridget Pauley work the register at the hospital gift shop. Photo by Rex Bavouett.


Ameche encourages staff and faculty to volunteer. Perhaps it’s because she started out as a UIHC volunteer herself when she worked at a campus job on the east side of the river. Volunteer positions can be matched to a working schedule, with evening and weekend times available. One of the most convenient ways to contribute time, Ameche suggests, is to volunteer over a lunch hour once a week.

Volunteers do a lot both behind the scenes and center stage to serve patients and their families.

Some work in and around the Volunteer Program office in an area called the Patient & Visitor Activity Center. Step off elevator F on the 8th floor, and there’s little hint that you’re in a hospital. The center was designed as a place for patients, their families, and the staff to get away from all things medical. A spacious lounge opens up with a grand piano and comfortable furniture arranged in small conversation groups. Rooftop Refreshments, staffed by volunteers, offers gourmet coffees, sandwiches, and snacks. There’s a patients’ library stocked with adult and children’s books, periodicals, books on tape, and videos. The rooftop patio, with its dramatic, nearly 360-degree view and table seating, is a favorite spot for patients and hospital staff alike. When the center was introduced 10 years ago, it was considered a major innovation in hospital design and drew visits from many other hospitals looking to study Iowa’s prototype.

Volunteers are dispersed throughout the building, doing their good deeds in lots of places.

"We’re decentralized," Ameche says. "In most hospital programs, you’d come to the main office like ours every time you volunteered. Because of our size, that’s not a sensible use of people’s time."

(left to right) Volunteers Julie Sexton, Deb Hedinger, and Stephanie Wieskamp sell t-shirts in the hospital lobby to benefit the Children's Miracle Network. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Some work in direct contact with patients, in inpatient units, outpatient clinics, and the emergency room. Others fill more traditional volunteer roles in places like the hospital gift shop. The Ronald McDonald House benefits seven days a week from volunteer power. It’s volunteer shoe leather that gets the hospital’s Noon News into the hands of patients as well as national and local papers on request.

Volunteering with patients can be an emotional experience. When a baby or young child is hospitalized, the parents often are unable to be with their child all day. Volunteer "cuddlers" provide comfort by rocking or reading to the young patient. Other volunteers choose to work in the hospital’s burn unit, helping patients and their families through very difficult times.

And of course, there are the Heartbeats. They’re an all-volunteer choir that rehearses each Monday at noon and gives three performances a year.

"UI staff volunteers make a difference in the lives of our patients every day," Ameche says. "They often contribute in ways very different from the work they are paid to do. It can be hard to fit volunteering into a busy schedule, and spending a lunch hour or a couple hours after work at our hospital is a convenient way to give back to people in need."

For information about the Volunteer Program and how to participate, contact Ameche at (35)6-7318 or by e-mail at

"I hear so many stories about the difference our volunteers make and about the wonderful health care patients receive here. It makes me feel proud."

Article by Sam Samuels

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