It takes a village
MCV Hospitals Auxiliary promotes volunteerism and philanthropy at VCU Health
By Brelyn Powell
As health care evolves to better meet the needs of patients and communities, volunteers are an increasingly valuable source of support. Organized networks of volunteers, known in the hospital world as auxiliaries, are common in health systems, and those who participate provide critical manpower as volunteers throughout the hospital and elsewhere.
The Medical College of Virginia Hospitals Auxiliary has provided support to the patients, visitors and staff of the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System since 1961, when a group of dedicated women began raising money through bake sales and yard sales. Members of the auxiliary have remained devoted to providing voluntary service in the hospital and as ambassadors in the community.
Over the years, they have raised more than $6.2 million to fund annual awards to support programs throughout the VCU Health System. Each year, the auxiliary reviews more than 85 applications and selects recipients for these awards. More than 50 projects receive auxiliary grant funding each year.
Last October, the group received a Special Award for Volunteer Leadership from the MCV Foundation in recognition of its exceptional record of fundraising and volunteerism.
“A core value of the auxiliary is to make sure the patient experience is as positive as possible, and volunteerism has an amazing effect on that,” says MCV Hospitals Auxiliary President Joyce Burgess. “Having someone there to offer kindness lets patients know that someone cares about them and is there to help them.”
The MCV Hospitals Auxiliary’s 250 members provide an average of 15,000 volunteer hours each year, and the results of their efforts can be seen in nearly every corner of the medical center. Here, we explore several of the group’s many initiatives that propel VCU Health.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
The auxiliary invests some of its grant funding in projects that improve areas of the hospital where patients and families spend time. From providing fresh flowers on patients’ breakfast trays and artwork and decorations in lobbies and waiting rooms to visits from certified therapy dogs trained through the VCU Center for Human-Animal Interaction’s Dogs on Call program, the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary is committed to making the hospital’s visitors comfortable.
“We even have volunteers on site to help patients navigate their way around the hospital,” says Ginny Little, who served as the auxiliary’s president from 2016 to 2018.
Patients visiting the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU can find auxiliary volunteers positioned on the third and fourth floors with carts of books as part of the group’s Arthur Ashe Books 4 Kids program. Grant funding is used to stock the carts with new, age-appropriate books. Volunteer “book buddies” help each patient select a book they can read in the waiting room before their appointment and then take home to keep.
“A few small touches here and there can make a huge difference to someone,” Little says. “We’re proud to play a role in making their time in our facilities enjoyable.”
Dancing with the Richmond Stars is the MCV Hospital Auxiliary’s largest fundraising event, where local personalities are paired with professional dancers to compete for the coveted first-place trophy. But the real winner of this annual competition is always the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
The auxiliary partners with the Children’s Hospital Foundation to host Dancing with the Richmond Stars to raise money for CHoR. Each year, profits from ticket sales benefit a predetermined project.
Last year’s event raised $85,000 to redesign two MRI and CT scan rooms in the CHoR Pavillion, transforming them from sterile diagnostic areas into calm and comforting spaces. In 2016, the proceeds funded the ChoR’s interactive floor display, a playful representation of James River wildlife.
“Volunteers are an integral part of the VCU Health community, and the auxiliary provides valuable support to our patients, visitors and staff through its volunteerism and fundraising efforts,” says Marsha Rappley, chief executive officer of VCU Health System and vice president of VCU Health Sciences.
As one of the stars who competed in this year’s event, Rappley helped the auxiliary raise $84,000 to enhance a waiting area in the Virginia Treatment Center for Children, CHoR’s pediatric mental health facility. The Children’s Activity Center features colorful seating and space for activities, and interactive gel-block flooring will be installed later this year.
“Through programs like Dancing with the Richmond Stars, the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary helps VCU Health live its mission of restoring health for all people and educating those who serve humanity,” Rappley says.
MERRY AND BRIGHT
During the holiday season, the auxiliary helps medical staff bring cheer to patients who are in treatment at a time when they would normally be enjoying the company of family and friends.
An annual bus tour to look at holiday light displays throughout the Richmond, Virginia, area is a welcome respite for patients in Massey Cancer Center’s Bone Marrow Transplant program. BMT patients have severely compromised immune systems because of high-dose chemotherapy treatments, so clinic staff donate their time to thoroughly clean and sanitize the bus.
Yvonne Allen, post-transplant coordinator in the BMT outpatient clinic, spearheaded the project when she came to work in the clinic in 2010.
“I was overwhelmed watching these patients stay separated from all of the comforts of home during the holidays,” she says. “Many of them are in temporary housing to stay close to the clinic during their treatments so I wanted to do something to bring them joy.”
The outing is supported by an auxiliary grant award now, but when it first started in 2010, clinic staff also took on the task of raising funds for the event.
“Fundraising can be challenging and time-consuming,” Allen says. “We did it on our own for the first three years, but the auxiliary’s support really helped us take it to a new level.”
Allen and her team have used grant funding from the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary to expand the evening’s festivities. Before the bus tour, participants gather for refreshments. BMT patients must follow strict dietary guidelines, so volunteers make sure the treats are doctor-approved. After the tour, each patient receives a gift bag of “BMT patient essentials,” such as hand sanitizer, lip balm and sunscreen.
The MCV Hospital Auxiliary’s continued support gives Allen a sense of security that patients can enjoy this event for years to come.
“Our patients look forward to this event,” Allen says. “The auxiliary provides us with the support we need to ensure that we can keep providing this experience year after year.”
A NEW NORMAL
Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp is an Illinois-based nonprofit that organizes retreats throughout the country for stroke survivors, caregivers and their families. Last September, VCU Health became the first hospital system in Virginia to sponsor the camp with help from an MCV Hospitals Auxiliary grant.
Madeline Weaver and her daughter, Cecilia Allen, were among the 30 stroke survivors and caregivers who attended the camp in Wakefield, Virginia. In 2015, Weaver suffered a stroke and was treated at VCU Medical Center. Doctors told her that recovery would be an ongoing process, but she pushed herself to recover as fast as possible.
“I was determined to be OK,” she says. “I wanted to work as hard as I could to get my life back to normal.”
But achieving normalcy was harder than Weaver expected. She recalls friends praising her physical progress, unaware of her struggle with the emotional aftermath.
At stroke camp, she felt understood.
“Everyone there knew how I felt,” she says. “It was amazing to know that it was normal to feel that way.”
Throughout the weekend, survivors and caregivers bonded around campfires and in support groups. They shared challenges and triumphs, offering encouragement from a place of understanding.
VCU Comprehensive Stroke Center nurse Kristina Gooch, RN, CNRN, served as a stroke camp volunteer and witnessed the impact of these interactions.
“When someone has a stroke, they often feel like an outsider,” Gooch explains. “Stroke camp helps them get comfortable with their new normal.”
Without the auxiliary’s support, providing such an opportunity for stroke survivors and their families would have been impossible, says VCU Comprehensive Stroke Center Program Coordinator Stacie Stevens, Ph.D., RN, FNP-BC (Ph.D.’98/M; B.S.’99/N; M.S.’01/N).
“The auxiliary had faith in the program and understood why it mattered,” Stevens says. “Their support made the weekend possible, and it changed people’s lives.”
To learn more about the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals Auxiliary, contact Lauren Moore, director of development for VCU Health, at (804) 828-3632 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit vcuhealth.org/for-yourhealth/volunteer-services/mcv-hospitals-auxiliary.