Each day across BJC HealthCare’s 14 hospitals, patients, employees and visitors are greeted warmly by a volunteer. Thousands of men and women give selflessly of their time and talent to act as navigators, staff gift shops, perform clerical duties and offer compassion. This week, BJC shines a light on a few of these amazing volunteers.
Marianne Wolken and Dandy
In 2019, Wolken’s husband was diagnosed with lymphoma and received infusion treatments monthly. While there, volunteers with dogs greeted the patients.
“For a moment, the stress faded,” Wolken says. “The sweet dog’s face made us laugh and reminded us to live in the moment.”
Today, Wolken and Dandy, a 4 year-old black Labrador, volunteer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“She gets so excited when she sees the hospital from the car window,” Wolken says. “I am a behavior analyst and used to work with children with autism at the Special School District of St. Louis County prior to having children. Now that my children are in school, I have time to train Dandy and I look forward to bringing smiles, love and a moment of peace to others.”
Dick Propes’ volunteering career at Alton Memorial Hospital is nearing the length of his educational career in the Alton community. Propes, 93, is a familiar face near the Registration desk in the AMH Duncan Wing main lobby each Monday afternoon. He’s been volunteering at AMH for more than 30 years, which means he’s been around longer than two of the hospital’s six wings.
Propes was a teacher and principal in the Alton School District for 36 years before that.
“I just enjoy seeing people and visiting with them,” he says. “I’ll see a patient come in and realize that I might have seen a family member of theirs come in years before.”
Known as "Ms. Stella" to everyone, Stella Ashcraft has been volunteering since 2016, helping with office duties, companion sitting, and delivering flowers, cakes or balloons to patients with milestone celebrations.
“I started volunteering because of my father,” Ashcraft says. “I was his caregiver for some time and when he chose hospice for his care, I knew I didn’t want him to be alone. I was holding my father’s hand and I prayed and asked God to please let me be there as my father transitioned so he would not be alone, and I would pay it forward. My prayers were answered.
"No one should ever be alone when it is their time to go, even it if just means holding someone’s hand, singing them a song, reading to them or painting their nails, so they are not alone," Ashcraft adds. "It is a great joy and a blessing to be able to help those in hospice and I am grateful that I can do this.”
Ashcraft says every volunteer and patient she has worked with has touched her heart. “I remember a patient I was asked to sit with who was not very responsive, so I started out just sitting and talking with the patient,” Ashcraft recalls. “Each visit after that we did a little more, listened to music, watched television together, and the patient's spirit was uplifted with each visit I made. We interacted, we smiled and laughed together, and each visit the patient thanked me for coming. I felt like I really did something wonderful, even if it was something so simple.
“Volunteering for BJC Hospice provides me the opportunity to impart compassion, caring and company to others and let them know there are people who care.”
Annabel Shen started volunteering in high school in Houston and knew she wanted to continue in college. During the pandemic and before her freshman year at Washington University, she served as a virtual volunteer for Barnes-Jewish Hospital concierge services making virtual cards for patients. Since arriving in St. Louis in September 2020, she has volunteered as a wayfinder, patient representative and assistant on a cardiothoracic unit.
Shen is majoring in computer science and bioinformatics and is pre-med. She wanted to volunteer at a hospital to confirm her decision to pursue a degree in medicine.
“I love computer science, but I wasn’t sure I could see myself sitting behind a computer eight plus hours a day,” she says. “Volunteering with patients gives me the opportunity to explore if medicine is truly what I prefer. The engagement with patients has been enjoyable and rewarding.”
Ron Gardiner began volunteering for BJC Hospice in early 2019, shortly before retiring. He took on a variety of tasks, including home respite care, home companionship visits, deliveries of cakes, balloons or gifts to patients celebrating milestone events, and delivering snacks to patients and their families at Evelyn’s House.
Gardiner says his favorite job now is answering phones and the front door at Evelyn’s House. “I get to sit in the nurse's 'bullpen' and interact with them daily, and I also get to talk with each visitor who comes to the house," he says.
“I feel a part of the team and a camaraderie with the nurses in an effort to serve the patients,” Gardiner adds. “There is a sign in the office space that never fails to move me. It says, ‘Nurse — because Angel is not a job title,’ which is so true. I admire the nurses so much and want to do whatever I can to make their jobs easier and allow them to focus more time with their patients."
Gardiner says he interacts with each of the visitors when he's at the front desk, saying hello or at least sharing a smile. “One evening a visitor was talking with another relative and I didn't recognize the language. Over the next several days, our brief interactions became longer and I was enjoying our visits," he says. "One evening before I left, I silently prayed for the visitor and patient. A few days later, I found out that the patient had passed away.
"A brief interaction created a bond for me that stretches to somewhere in the world to this day," Gardiner adds. "There are so many debts that I owe to others, and hospice allows me to give back a little.”
Retired nurse Diane Luze also volunteers at the Cancer Center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
“I wasn’t nervous about volunteering with cancer patients,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘I could never do that.’ For me, volunteering is very uplifting.”
The staff there, Luze says, is outstanding.
“Everyone seems to be grateful for our help, and that makes us feel good,” she says. “We do the things that free the staff up to do what they need to do, and they are very grateful for that help.”
Luze moved to the St. Louis area in 2000 and began volunteering at the Cancer Center in 2001.
“When we first moved here, I didn’t know anyone,” she explains. “It was an opportunity to get out and meet people. I like to help people, and it makes me feel good doing something for someone else and making them feel better.”
Denise Thomas and Carol Winter
Denise has volunteered with Memorial since 2015. Carol started in 2018, and the two of them have worked every Wednesday together for the last six years!
Carol says, “I just love people. If they walk in, and I could smile at them, I like to think it’s helping ease something. I just enjoy it!”
Denise says, “I enjoy working and helping people. I like being around the people.”
Would you like to volunteer?
Volunteers are vital to BJC HealthCare. Interested in helping? Find out about volunteering at BJC's hospitals and service organizations.