My grandmother is 93 years old. Twice a week since 1998 she has volunteered at Monroe Community Hospital’s Tapestry Gift Shop, earning Volunteer of the Year in 2002. I knew at a high level how she spent her day as well as the general purpose of the hospital as a long term care facility.  When NimbleUser offered employees a paid day off to volunteer at a non-profit of our choice, I knew I wanted to learn more about how my grandmother spent her day and the people she served. It turned out to be an amazing day.
Monroe Community Hospital (MCH) is a county funded hospital that offers short term rehabilitation services, as well as long-term care for more complex health conditions and cases that other hospitals are not equipped to handle.  MCH staff refer to individuals as residents rather than patients because many of them are living there on a full-time basis.

With a limited county budget, the hospital leans on two organizations to provide additional funds for equipment and improved quality of life for patients, one of which is the MCH Auxiliary. Under the MCH Auxiliary is the Tapestry gift shop, the Boutique (an in-house thrift store), a salon for residents, Resident Volunteer Therapy program (including art and pet therapy) and many other smaller programs including hospital aquariums and holiday decorations. All of these programs directly contribute to the quality of life of residents.

I began my volunteer day in Tapestry Gift Shop, helping my grandmother open up the store in the morning. She diligently got right down to business counting money in her register and restocking items on the shelf.  After a quick tutorial on the cash register I was off and running, ready to assist customers. I had worked as a cashier at the local grocery store, Wegmans, from high school through college. I understood customer service, but this was different. Many of the residents visit the gift shop for social reasons—to say good morning and to go about their routine.  My grandmother and I cheerfully greeted people . Unlike past customer service jobs, not one person was in a rush to buy an item and leave. Every transaction was a personal interaction and human connection that added to the enjoyment of the day for both the cashier and the “customer.” 

Many of the residents are on a fixed budget and had to carefully consider their purchases. Many times we were not behind a counter, but rather out on the floor helping a resident open their wallet or reach an item because they were in a wheelchair. We rang up all kinds of items. Visitors and MCH staff perused the gifts and clothing, while the snacks and coin candy were popular with residents. I learned that the profits made from these sales help to fund the types of things the county budget cannot account for. Everything from the aquarium in the lobby to the ability to have more advanced equipment is supported by Tapestry and the other Auxiliary programs. Residents who are able to do some form of work for the hospital can earn an additional stipend for their job, with their pay coming from MCH Auxiliary. 

Halfway through the day, the Director of Volunteers/Customer Service, Barbara Fortunato, gave me a tour of MCH. I had driven by a million times but never fully understood all of the different types of care they offer from geriatric care to alzheimer’s care to hospice care. One-third of the long-term residents are actually under the age of 65, as evident by their pediatric and young adult care unit. The youngest resident I encountered was 8 weeks old and the oldest was 104.

Later in the afternoon I was asked to assist the Social Services office with compiling paperwork for new residents. As I was making copies and compiling packets I started to understand the nature of the limited budgets. The forms showed that cable, phone, a visit to the hair salon and small purchases are all discretionary and had to be budgeted for by the patient. Doing the math in my head and knowing the average patient had $50/month to spend I wondered how people could afford the things that many of us take for granted. The MCH Auxiliary (including Tapestry) funds are there to pay for a haircut from the salon or clothing from the thrift store that residents may not be able to afford themselves. In my one day of volunteering I was able to see how important these funds were to the basic needs and quality of life for residents. 

Lastly I will conclude with the personal connection I felt towards this organization. My grandmother’s husband and my maternal grandfather was in a car accident that left him brain damaged at the age of 50. My grandmother cared for him in her home until his death, for roughly 30 years. He would have been an MCH resident if not for the fact that there was not room for him at the time and my grandmother’s decision to care for him herself. She created a scheduled and familiar routine that provided comfort to him long-term. After his death my grandmother wasn’t interested in slowing down. She took all of her people and organizational skills and embraced her volunteer job at Tapestry. She continues to impact others with a smile or by assisting residents with their shopping, a normal but distinctly important and independent part of a resident’s life. It was an honor to walk in her shoes for a day and to get to meet all of the people who came through the gift shop doors.

If you are interested in learning more or donating to MCH Auxiliary, please visit http://www.monroehosp.org/auxiliary.asp. Additionally, there is a video that gives insight into the volunteer program: http://vimeo.com/91478212 (pw:mchvolunteers)
I would like to thank NimbleUser for the opportunity to do this through the 1/1/1 program.