Mondays are generally regarded as the least popular day of the week. But for two special Eastern Shore couples, Mondays are volunteer days and their favorite day of the week.

Cathey and Vernon Bell of Wachapreague and Ruth Gaskins of Melfa volunteer at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital and Riverside Shore Cancer Center on Mondays, and Ruth's husband, Woody, volunteers at the Cancer Center on Tuesdays. Collectively, they've been volunteering for more than 60 years, a testament to both their dedication as well as the rewards volunteering offers.

Cathey Bell began volunteering in 1997 when the Cancer Center first opened and then later moved to helping in a variety of other areas in the hospital. When asked why she loves volunteering so much she says, "I love people and helping patients, and I love my volunteer family at the hospital. No matter how much time I put into volunteering, I always get more out of it."

She loved it so much that she suggested it to her husband, Vernon, 13 years ago after he underwent treatment at the Cancer Center. Following his recovery and after retiring from Accomack County schools, he tried volunteering at the Cancer Center and has never looked back. "I look forward to Mondays and my volunteer shift at the Cancer Center. I truly enjoy helping patients and can speak from first-hand experience. I know what they're going through and can help minimize their fears and anxieties. Plus, I know I'm helping our clinical staff so that they can focus 100% on our patients."

Vernon Bell also leads another volunteer effort for cancer patients, this time through the American Cancer Society's "Road to Recovery" program where volunteers drive cancer patients to and from their treatments. Most patients are treated at the Nassawadox facility but others needing care in Salisbury or across the Bay are also provided with free transportation. In 2015, the group provided 120 free rides to patients and covered more than 11,000 miles in their personal cars and at their own expense. Vernon remarked, "The Road to Recovery effort is truly a labor of love. Safely transporting patients to and from their treatments, along with having many supportive conversations on the road is such an important component of the patient's treatment."

Ruth Gaskins has been volunteering since February of 1988. She described her first day of volunteering as she reported to Maude Jester, then the Volunteer Coordinator. "She had the demeanor of an army general and wasn't shy about letting you know she was in charge. She looked me up and down that first day, brusquely said 'wear different shoes next time', handed me a smock and sent me on my way. But I learned so much and came to love volunteering at the hospital. I know how important giving that first reassuring smile is to those coming to the hospital whether as a patient or just to visit a loved one. Forming a genuine connection with people always produces a smile from them, and I want everyone to know they're welcome and we'll take good care of them."

While Ruth has been volunteering for nearly 29 years, her husband, Woody, is the relative newcomer to the family of volunteers, having joined in 2015. In fact, after he too was a patient at the Cancer Center, he decided to try his hand at volunteering, and he now fully appreciates Ruth's work. Woody was trained by Vernon Bell and says, "When I talk to patients at the Cancer Center, I can tell them what I've been through, and I know from experience how important all the little extra personal touches are to them. You know when you leave for the day that you've made a difference in someone's day and that you've made it better."

All four of the volunteers agree that they are looking forward to volunteering when the new facility opens in February. 

John Peterman, Vice President and Administrator at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital commented, "Our volunteers are a vital part of our team of patient care. They connect us to our community and to our patients giving that extra level of personal care that is the Riverside Care Difference, caring for others as we care for those we love. We appreciate all that our volunteers do and know that they truly help us make a difference in our patients' lives."

There are currently nearly 30 volunteers for Riverside on the Shore, and last year they provided more than 5,300 hours of service to the hospital and patients. Volunteers perform a variety of non-clinical tasks from mail handling, pharmacy runs, picking up lunch or drinks for patients, delivering meals to patients, escorting them to ancillary departments as well as manning the reception desk at the hospital. 

Volunteers are always needed and need no previous experience or training. Volunteer opportunities include working the information desk, escorting patients and visitors, and assisting in the mail room or administration, the Emergency Department, the nursing units, as well as the gift shop. Anyone interested in volunteering at the new facility in Onley should contact Ruthellen Lovett at 757-414-8000. Volunteers interested in the Road to Recovery program can contact Cancer Center directly at 757-414-8355.

 

Published: December 21, 2016