Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 6:30 a.m.
Fifteen years ago, Lucy Smallwood had a lot more time on her hands. Now she has less, but is a lot happier.
Smallwood's second career as a hospital volunteer began soon after taking her husband to Ocala Regional Medical Center for emergency treatment for emphysema.
While waiting, Smallwood talked to one of the hospital volunteers about the work they did helping patients. Smallwood, 72, was already looking for some direction after she and her husband retired and moved to Ocala.
“I golfed, I bowled, but I thought there's got to be something else. I need to do something constructive,” she said. “I can't play all day long.”
Soon after the hospital visit, Smallwood asked to volunteer. She is now a volunteer at West Marion Community Hospital. Both are Ocala Health System facilities and owned by Hospital Corporation of America. Between the two hospitals, about 200 people volunteer.
Smallwood was one of the 3.4 million Floridians who volunteered more than 458 million free hours to an array of organizations such as hospitals, churches, youth mentoring groups and such in 2011, according to one estimate. Monday marked the beginning of National Volunteer Week, which is meant to bring attention to the need for volunteers and the satisfaction volunteers get from the work they do for others.
Joyce Simpson, 73, is one of more than 1,700 volunteers at Munroe Regional Medical Center.
As a former homemaker, Simpson thought before she began volunteering in 2001 that she might not have the skills a hospital would want.
“But you take one step at a time, next thing you know you're branching out and doing different jobs,” she said.
Simpson helps prepare information packets for discharged patients to take home. She said that's one reason many people won't volunteer: They don't have confidence in their ability to help.
“There's always a job. There's a job for everybody,” Simpson said.
But as much as patients benefit from the volunteers, Simpson said she gains much more.
“I was called Joy most of my life but I haven't always lived up to it,” she said.
Volunteering allows her to make up for some of that, she said.
“This is just so rewarding. I would recommend it to anyone,” Simpson said.
But an effective volunteer group doesn't happen on its own, said Maureen Quinlan, United Way of Marion County president.
“Your organization has to appeal to the interests of the volunteer. Once that match is found, it can be very successful,” she said.
Volunteers need effective management to be productive, Quinlan said. Paid managers need to communicate with their volunteers, make the volunteers' responsibility clear, and make sure they know they're appreciated by the organization they volunteer for.
United Way of Marion County helps fund 23 programs under 19 agencies. United Way also helps people select the organization that best suited for them if they want to volunteer through its website, http://www.uwmc.org.
Meanwhile, Quinlan said it is more difficult recruiting volunteers than 20 years ago, adding that people are busier and have less free time.
She predicts that the problem of finding volunteers will not go away in the future. People will still think they don't have enough time, she said.
Anne Shannon, Ocala Health System volunteer and senior services director, agreed that people in this area aren't volunteering the way they once did.
Shannon thinks more members of households work and there are more places to volunteer now.
The Corporation for National & Community Service reported that Florida saw its highest volunteer rate in 2003, when 25 percent of Floridians ages 16 and older volunteered. That fell to 22.9 percent in 2011.
The report also showed that most Florida volunteers, 35.7 percent, worked at religious organizations, 24.3 percent at educational facilities, and 13.2 percent at social service organizations. Health facilities ranked fourth with 10.2 percent.
Shannon said she relies mostly on word of mouth to find volunteers. Each person volunteers a minimum of four hours per week.
But heading perhaps the largest set of area volunteers are Jennifer Poole Wood, Munroe's executive director of volunteer & senior services and Richard Grosso, Munroe's Auxiliary president.
The two said many young people volunteer at Munroe to get healthcare experience and help decide whether they would like a career in medicine.
About 300 high school students interviewed with Munroe officials this spring to volunteer at the nonprofit facility. It's the most that's ever applied.
“We feel it's an investment in our community and our healthcare,” Wood said.
The hospital has as many as 70 positions volunteers can work in, Grosso said.
Volunteers at Munroe come for the same reason most volunteers work almost anywhere, Grosso said, namely to be productive, feel appreciated, fill time and add to their social lives.
Wood, Grosso and Shannon agreed their hospitals would be significantly different without volunteers.
To replace Munroe's volunteers with paid worker would cost the hospital about $4 million annually.
For Brothers Keeper Soup Kitchen volunteer Ron Juzdowski, the volunteer job is worth more than any salary. He volunteers feeding the poor with his wife at the Northwest Second Street facility.
“I like to give back to the community and we enjoy every minute of it,” he said. “I get a good feeling helping these people.”
Juzdowski, 75, was a New York planning engineer designing telephone grids. Although he liked the job, he said that he never felt like he was helping anyone doing it.
“But now I feel like I'm really helping people. They come in hungry and they leave with a full belly and feeling good,” he said. “I'll keep doing this as long as I'm physically able.”
Reach fred Hiers at firstname.lastname@example.org and 352-867-4157.