When I was called upon to write a blog for the Volunteer Department, I was a bit reticent. I only just started with Unity on March 2. The first week and a half of my employment was spent in orientation with HR getting an overview of Unity’s mission, vision, values, and various departments. The first day I really remember being completely with my department was March 13; the day it was decided that, for everyone’s safety, we were suspending all volunteer programs effective immediately.
My first introduction to the volunteers’ names came via affixing mailing labels to envelopes stuffed with letters outlining Unity’s COVID response as it related to the volunteers. Remember mid-March? When everything was being closed en masse? It was a scary time. Things were changing so fast and there was information coming in from every direction. Without hesitation, yet after careful consideration, Unity made the decision to put the volunteers’ safety first. And this was my initiation to the department. Saying ‘hello’ and temporarily ‘goodbye’ to all the volunteers in one fell swoop.
So, what can I say about the volunteer program at Unity? It turns out, quite a lot. During those first few quiet weeks, I began making phone calls to the volunteers to introduce myself and check in on how the volunteers were doing. Each individual I called was happy to talk with me. A complete stranger. As I came to learn from speaking with them, their eagerness and joy to engage with me should have come as no shock. These volunteers love to learn about new people. They walk with patients and families on their end-of-life journeys. Taking it all in and forming a bond is just what they do. I’ve found the volunteers to be some of the warmest and most open people I’ve ever met –and that’s just over the phone!
Volunteers love to learn about new people. They walk with patients and families on their end-of-life journeys.
On April 6, I got a chance to work more closely with the volunteers. It was determined that Unity could make use of cloth masks, and I was able to reach out to the sewing volunteers to ask them to create and donate cloth masks for staff use. And, man, did these volunteers come through in spades! Between April 6 and May 29, Unity volunteers, staff, and community members created and donated 1,186 masks. One thousand one hundred eighty-six. In just under two months. I was floored. These volunteers willingly gave of their time and talents to ensure the safety and protection of others. Without batting an eye. Every single volunteer I spoke to said they were “happy to help” and that it was “the least they could do.”
On April 27 I was able to reach out yet again and ask some of our crafty volunteers if they would be willing to make mask extenders (also known as ear protectors) for the comfort of our staff utilizing the donated cloth masks. In one month, Unity volunteers made 293 of them.
In mid-May, I was yet again able to reach out to the volunteers with a new sewing opportunity. This is what I said to them, “Before I tell you about this new opportunity, I want to take this time to once again thank those of you who have devoted your time, talents, and energy to helping Unity during this time. Each week, I update my children on the running total of masks volunteers have made for Unity. I tell them that when their children and grandchildren ask them what it was like to live through this pandemic, I want them to tell about all the helpers like the Unity volunteers who so selflessly stepped up when needed. What you are doing is no small matter. Your generosity and selflessness will be remembered for generations. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Unity volunteers, staff, and community members created and donated 1,186 face masks.
Next, I asked the volunteers if they would be willing to sew cloth isolation gowns for staff to use at the Meng Residence Facility. Over half the people who received that email responded that they would be willing to help. Once my materials finally arrived and I was able to begin handing out the supply kits, even more people had signed on to help. Over the space of one week, I had handed out enough materials to make 27 gowns. Twenty-seven gowns in one week. I was blown away. Nothing should surprise me at this point in my journey, yet I am in awe at every turn. I shed tears thinking about how much these volunteers have already given, and how much more they’re willing to give.
So what have I learned so far in my nearly three months at Unity? I’ve learned that the depth of Unity’s volunteers’ willingness to serve and give knows no bounds. I’ve learned that Unity’s employees are also kind, warm, and selfless individuals. I’ve learned that Unity truly and deeply cares about its community partners, patients, volunteers, and employees, and I’ve learned that I am darn lucky to be in this position. I can’t wait to see what I will learn in the next three months.
This blog post was shared by Leah Seibel, a Volunteer Coordinator at Unity Hospice.
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