Are you considering becoming a volunteer, but not quite sure where to start? Over the next few weeks, I will shine the spotlight on some of those who can help show you the way. If it feels a little uncomfortable at first, all the better, time to get out of your comfort zone!
Grab a friend, and remember, if the doors don’t open the first time, just keep trying, and eventually your gift of giving back will meet someone's need.
Cassandra Mays is a volunteer on Thursdays at MD Anderson Cancer Research Hospital in Houston. She and her friend, Janet Kraft drive the “coffee cart” delivering fresh coffee, tea and hot chocolate to patients and their families during their long days at the hospital. It doesn’t require a special skill, just a smile and willingness to spend her time, making someone else’s day a little bit better.
This is her story:
“I became an empty-nester in 2014. So, with more time on my hands, I was ready to start accomplishing some of my long-standing bucket list items as well as wanting to also use my time to volunteer for a worthy cause. After applying to several hospitals in The Woodlands, I found there just weren’t any openings. One local hospital suggested that if I were willing to commute into Houston, hospitals in the medical district needed volunteers immediately. I knew that M D Anderson was where I wanted to be. My experience with MDA began in 1992, when my father was a patient there. Unfortunately, he did not beat cancer. He passed away in September 1992. My desire to help at the hospital comes from my wish that a cure for all cancers will be found. I also want to be present as a show of support to the patients and their families. I hope that my kids and the generations after them will not have to deal with cancer the way we do today. It is a cruel and unpredictable disease.”
“My job at the hospital is the coffee cart. There are several carts operating everyday 24/7 so in the course of a day up to 15 volunteers are needed. On the carts is coffee, hot chocolate and hot tea. We offer our complimentary drinks to the patients and their caregivers. We also have peppermints that we hand out. That may not seem like much, but to a chemo patient whose stomach is feeling ill, peppermint is a great soother; and to anyone who is spending a whole day in waiting and treatment rooms, a peppermint can put a smile on your face (not to mention freshness to the breath.)”
“What I find most rewarding about my job is that the coffee cart represents comfort and warmth. We put smiles on people’s faces that are going through tough times. Just like chicken noodle soup is a comfort food when you don't feel well or you're missing Mom, our beverages provide the same feelings. I like making people smile and feel good. That’s just who I am. Every week, through my whole coffee cart shift, I see people grateful, for a hot drink; grateful for someone who will listen; grateful that someone cares. That is most rewarding to me. Because MDA is one of the leading cancer hospitals in the world, people come from all over the world to be treated there. I have met people from Germany, Greece, South America, Mexico, Canada, and many countries in the Middle East to name just a few.”
“People who are treated at MDA and have to be there frequently, look for the coffee carts. They know our hot chocolate is the best. They know we serve them with a smile, as well as a listening ear; and the ones who are there mid-day on Thursdays, know that our cart is always “dressed” in a theme. Although our dress code includes pants and a volunteer suit-type jacket, we are also allowed a creative license. When there is a holiday approaching, we wear shirts with either headbands or sunglasses to the theme. So you may see us with reindeer ears, Easter bonnets, or American flag bling necklaces. Many times, our shoes reflect celebrations; red, white and blue with stars; Hawaiian flowers, or even Cowboy boots for Go Texan Day.”
“Everyone has something to give, so everyone has time to volunteer. Whether you volunteer by chairing a charity gala, on a weekly basis with an organization, or on your own - one time, doing one activity, volunteering helps. It is not only for others, but for ourselves. It is our human nature to feel pride, happiness and satisfaction when we do something good. I would encourage everyone to find something to volunteer for, even if you do it for yourself. What you will find is that in the end, you won't be thinking so much about yourself. It is really becomes about the other person, and that is a wonderful feeling.”
Some interesting facts about the volunteers at MDA: There is a paid staff of about 47 employees at MDA who work in the volunteer services department, making sure all is well coordinated. There are over 1200 volunteers that work each week. Volunteering is done 7 days a week. There are many more jobs than the coffee cart. There are jobs for every personality type. If you are shy and introverted, there are administrative type jobs, sorting books in the library, etc. If you are extroverted and like being around a lot of people, you can work at the coffee cart, concierge desk, or gift-shop. One of the larger jobs is that of patient advocate. These volunteers are responsible for checking in on the patients, making sure they have what they need, that communication is good with the doctors, taking them magazines or personal hygiene items, and giving a listening ear. We also have volunteers who are musicians, playing their instruments in common areas. You have to audition for that job. Those are just a few of the jobs available.
For more information contact Volunteer Services at MDA