Marin General Hospital Salutes Its Volunteers

GREENBRAE, CA — "Volunteers often are described as 'priceless,' but that vastly understates their true value," says Lee Domanico, CEO of Marin General Hospital. "The truth is that we could not operate without them. They make the difference between our ability to deliver exceptional care, and the opportunity to deliver exceptional caring."

Marin General Hospital's volunteers deliver help, hope, comfort and entertainment to patients and staff alike. They work in the Gift Gallery, Radiology, the ICU and throughout the hospital, greeting patients and visitors, delivering flowers and gifts and taking care of simple tasks so nurses and staff have more time to attend to patients.

According to Kathy Meyer, Marin General Hospital's Director of Volunteer Services, the hospital's 278 active volunteers donated 26,165 hours this past year. Based on a 2011 study by Independent Sector that put the value of a volunteer's time in California at $25-$28.50 per hour, those volunteer hours were equivalent to a gift of nearly $700,000. "But that's not the point," says Meyer. "Volunteers give us something money can't buy."

While the hospital's volunteers span a wide age range-including a special "Teen Volunteer" group-senior volunteers are a major force. In a county where more than 30% of residents are over 65 (compared to about 12% of the total U.S. population), that's not surprising. But consider this: A study last year by the Area Agency on Aging and the Marin Community Foundation found that 71% of volunteer hours in Marin were contributed by older adults.

"It's amazing," Meyer says. "We have dozens of volunteers 80 and over. They have in many cases been volunteering for decades. Their experience and dependability is simply invaluable."

An example is Annette Perry, age 92, a resident at the Tamalpais in Greenbrae who has logged more hours (20,400) than any other active Marin General Hospital volunteer. You'll find her in the Emergency Room at Marin General Hospital every Wednesday, often serving as a calming influence for relatives of patients who arrive in crisis. "When you love what you're doing, it is easy to be of service to others," she says. "I feel that our life here on Earth is not measured by time, but instead by the people we've touched and the impact we've had on their lives."

Another legendary volunteer is Jim Paullin, a Lagunitas resident who celebrated his 80th birthday this year and has donated more than 9,500 hours at Marin General Hospital. Paullin organizes monthly bake sales for the Friendship branch of volunteers, and his own pies have achieved iconic status. He also serves as a volunteer in same day surgery and famously dresses in costumes at Easter, Christmas, and Halloween to deliver candy and cheer to patients and staff.

Larkspur resident Nancy Sliter, 92, is yet another example of the extraordinary seniors who continue to contribute their time and energy to Marin General Hospital. She started volunteering more than a quarter century ago and has given well over 5,000 hours since then, the last several years of it in the Gift Gallery, where she works the Thursday shift.

"I'm just a 'shop girl' at heart," she says, explaining that she snagged the popular sales assignment the moment it became available (She had previously worked at the front desk and in the office). "I like to sell things to people," she says. "I tell them, 'Buy it now it may not be there tomorrow.'" Sliter adds, "When there's something I see that I want, I get it."

When she moved to Marin, Sliter says, she didn't know anyone, so volunteering was a way to meet people. Nowadays, her schedule is brimming with frequent weekly sessions of duplicate bridge, visits with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and indulging her love of baseball. She just returned from an annual pilgrimage to Arizona for baseball Spring Training.

Myrtle Chung, 92, also works in the Gift Gallery, a post she's held for 21 years, donating more than 3,000 hours of her time. "I wanted to get away from the house," says the Mill Valley resident in a soft West Indies accent. "I needed a break, a change of pace. One of my daughters suggested volunteering at the hospital, and that was all I needed. I fell in love with it right away. You meet wonderful people, and I like to see and sometimes buy the clothing, there's always something new coming into the store."

Chung, a native of Jamaica, arrived in Marin with her husband via New York. He had decided he didn't like the Big Apple, so they headed west, where the fulltime homemaker and mother of seven found herself in a community where she didn't know a soul. "I needed to escape from the cooking and cleaning now and then," she says. Volunteering at the hospital was the perfect answer.

"Life has been good to me," she says. "So I wanted to give back. I may not know the people I'm helping, but whatever we do in the gift shop goes right back into the hospital itself."

Marin General Hospital's volunteers do more than work in the hospital, of course. Retail operations in the hospital, largely staffed by volunteers, netted over $114,000 last year. Over the years, volunteers have raised more than $5 million-including nearly $176,000 last year- for such purposes as education, chaplaincy, lactation, Marin Community Clinics, cancer, nursing, WIC, physical therapy, "Acts of Kindness" and knitting and sewing for newborns. They organize such events as the Raccoon Branch's "Great Gatsby Soiree," Friendship Branch's bake sales and the Stork Branch's "fun-raising" family carnivals, restaurant fundraisers, music classes, holiday decoration sales and book readings.

"If there weren't a national volunteer week to recognize the impact of these extraordinary individuals we'd have to invent a local one," said Lee Domanico, CEO of Marin General Hospital. "In the fast-changing, driven world of healthcare, volunteers are one thing we can all count on. We salute them."