‘Do All the Good You Can’: Volunteers at City of Hope

August 23, 2017 | by Stephen Dolainski

volunteers at city of hope Art for the Heart 2 From left to right: Volunteers Mary Jo Sanello, Peggy O'Gara, Marjo Woodruff and Chuck O'Shea
Carol Michaelson takes her credo from the words of the English Anglican cleric John Wesley: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
 
Michaelson is one of over 300 City of Hope volunteers. Her story, like that of many other volunteers, began when she was a patient. Michaelson, a retired medical social worker, battled breast cancer at City of Hope and her experiences both in and out of the hospital had a meaningful and lasting impact on her.
 
“As soon as I retired,” she said, “I planned to volunteer at City of Hope. Ironically, I became a patient instead. Throughout my treatment, I grew emotionally attached to the place, the people, the environment where I had been so well cared for. I was more determined than ever to become a volunteer, which I did shortly after my treatment was completed.”
 
That was more than five years ago. As a volunteer with the Volunteer Services Department, Michaelson wears many different hats. She greets those who have been newly admitted and provides support for returning patients and their caregivers in the Infusion Unit. She also visits one on one with patients and families in the inpatient unit, a role that is part of the Hope Volunteer Visitor program within the Department of Supportive Care Medicine.
 
Volunteers at City of Hope provide services throughout the medical center. They may escort new patients to their appointments, assist in the outpatient surgery area, provide clerical assistance or staff campus events.
 
Four volunteers, all former patients at City of Hope, also assist with a special program that is, appropriately, close to their hearts: “Art for the Heart.”
 
volunteers at city of hope Art for the Heart Volunteer Peggy O'Gara shows a patient two artworks available for hanging as part of the "Art for the Heart" program.
Once a week, Mary Jo Sanello, Marjo Woodruff, Chuck O’Shea and Peggy O’Gara visit one floor of Helford Hospital. Their mission? To offer inspiration and visual beauty to patients by hanging a large photographic image of the patient’s choosing on a wall of their room.
 
Patients select their pictures from a large, colorful collection of nature scenes — oceans, mountains, sunsets — as well as images of wildlife and dogs and other pets (the animal and pet pictures are very popular). The volunteers have even contributed several of their own photographs to the collection.
 
Each of the 108 patient rooms on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of Helford has been outfitted with a picture frame on a magnetic board that can accommodate the 16- by 20-inch photographs. Patients have the opportunity to change the image regularly or stick with a particularly meaningful one. The team is planning to add even more photographs to the collection, which already numbers around 150.
 
As former patients themselves, these volunteers share a unique understanding of the patient experience. As O’Shea said, “Anybody who has had cancer just gets it. Sometimes, just a kind word, a smile, an ‘I understand’ or a picture of a dog can make the difference between a good day and a bad day.”
 
But it’s Woodruff who best sums up what motivates these volunteers: “As a patient, I was given the attitude of hope,” she said. “So, in gratitude, I give back.”
 
If you’d like to get involved, click here or call the Volunteer Services Department at 626.256.4673, extension 64049.
 

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