Doing the Most Good: The Volunteers of Children’s Hospital of Alabama
Words by Sarah Wilkes
For over 100 years, Children’s Hospital of Alabama has been a critical provider of healthcare for children. It’s also one of the leading pediatric hospitals in the nation. The roots of Children’s Hospital began with a group of women volunteers in 1911, and its success would not have been possible without the support of the community around it. Today, dedicated men and women–young and old–devote their time to the hospital and serve the brilliant children it takes in every day.
Retired educators Lucy Hortberg and Glenn Rice are two adult volunteers who have spent decades dedicated to Children’s Hospital. Glenn, going on his 40th year of volunteering, says that working with Children’s is a way of life. Like teaching, he admires the rewarding experiences that come with helping children. “I’ve spent my whole life observing children in a classroom and in the lunchroom,” he said with a chuckle, “so working with children at Children’s Hospital, it’s just an extension of what I’ve always done.”
Glenn enjoys the one-on-one aspect of working with the children–something that wasn’t always available as an educator. Working in the activity rooms, there are a variety of jobs to be done. Work ranges from sanitizing every surface to keeping a child company while they play video games. The activity rooms have given Glenn opportunities to work with children of all ages. “Sometimes you’ll see the same children,” he said, “sometimes they are readmitted for whatever reasons, but it’s really rewarding when they remember you.”
Lucy, a retiree of Birmingham City Schools, began her journey with Children’s when her daughter decided to volunteer. As a school teacher, she wasn’t able to volunteer conventionally–but she could rock children. Three decades later, you can still find Lucy rocking any baby that needs her arms. When parents are unable to be with their children at the hospital, volunteers like Lucy are there to give them needed company. She described her job as strictly sitting in a rocking chair and mentioned that many people don’t have the patience to sit the amount of time required to keep the children company. She also has a close relationship with the nurses, some that have been with her since she started volunteering. “That’s the best part of the day,” she says, “if you walk in and they say, ‘I’ve got a baby.’”
She recalled the story of one little girl who had been at the hospital for a year before being adopted by one of the nurses. “That’s pretty special, and you don’t get to know that much. It just happened to be a nurse from up there who’s kept us in touch with this precious child,” Lucy explained.
“One day I kind of woke up and something told me I needed to work with Children’s,” says Fred Trawick, a volunteer of 18 years. Fred works in the recovery unit where he is assists the nurses and prepares children for the next step of their healing journey. “We get blankets for the children. We get them drinks if they are able to have a drink, and popsicles. Then when the patient leaves, we clean the bed space to get it ready for the next patient,” he explains.
He spends three days a week there, and he agrees that it’s a way of life. “You see all these different circumstances about children,” he goes on, “and you learn to be much more tolerant of small children and understand the things they’re going through.” He says the hands-on experience of helping a child through their ailments is the most rewarding and unique part about working with Children’s Hospital.
Becoming a Children’s volunteer takes extreme dedication and commitment. It can take up to a month to complete the necessary steps to becoming a Children’s volunteer and may even require a training class depending on your placement. These volunteers, however, will tell you that working with Children’s is well worth the time invested.
Lisa Howard began her career with Children’s as a volunteer for 6 years, and now she has been an employee for 15. “I always said if I could get paid to do my volunteer work, it’s exactly what I would want to do,” she tells me.
Lisa finds reward in watching younger volunteers grow and become nurses, doctors or employees just as she did. “I’ll have [volunteers] come back and visit me and tell me they’re a doctor now, and it’s almost like I was kind of a mom to them while they were here,” she says.
Glenn also enjoys seeing what the college-aged volunteers have to offer and hopes that they will return to Children’s Hospital again someday. “I always love to see what their motivation is to be a volunteer,” he says. “It’s rewarding to see them at work, too. They have skills that I don’t have as an older volunteer.”
Lucy Hortberg believes that Children’s is a special place to give your time because there are many different jobs to choose from. “There are a lot of things I do, but not as passionate as Children’s,” she says, “I like where I am but there are lots of opportunities for anyone who wants to help.”
“And helping others is the way it should be,” Glenn says with pride, “We need to be doers of the word, not hearers only, that’s for sure.”