Seniors in service

GREENFIELD — Greeting anxious patients or worried family members with a warm smile and kind sentiment is a job Jo An Robertson has taken seriously for nearly 15 years.

The Hancock Regional Hospital volunteer has logged more than 6,000 hours of community service at the county’s hospital since starting in the early 2000s.

She joined the hospital’s army of nearly 400 volunteers as a way to stay busy and active.

And at 84, she has no plans to quit now.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said of the two days a week she spends greeting guests and helping them navigate the hospital. “We feel we’re really helping people.”

Often, volunteers eat lunch with patients or walk the halls of the hospital beside them, talking them through a scary prognosis and reminding them it will all be OK.

Those volunteers make a world of difference at Hancock Regional Hospital, said Dawn Earlywine, program director of volunteer services. Senior citizens, who are eager to give back, represent a majority of the program’s volunteers.

It’s a similar story at other agencies in the county.

The experience gives seniors a chance to give back to their communities and stay active after retirement, while filling the gaps for organizations that never have enough help.

Worthwhile experiences

At Hancock County Senior Services, a community-based nonprofit agency serving senior citizens and disabled residents, volunteers help in a variety of ways, said volunteer coordinator Kit Paternoster.

They spend time with homebound clients and assist them with tasks the clients are no longer able to do.

Some grocery shop, and others do yard work. Or they just spend a few hours keeping the client company.

It’s important work, Paternoster said. And it gives retired residents a way to stay active, which is an important component in staying healthy as they age.

“The people who tend to live the longest, they still are involved in being busy, doing something,” she said. “We all need a reason to get up in the morning, and it can give them a sense of accomplishment.”

Greenfield resident Becky Graham, 66, has been volunteering with senior services for nearly 15 years.

It’s a humbling experience, she said. She visits with clients, takes them grocery shopping and occasionally takes them out to eat. She loves spending time with them.

“It’s just a pleasure. It’s a joy,” Graham said. “They’re witty and funny.”

Volunteers like Graham are wonderful people who are motivated to do worthwhile service, Paternoster said.

“The people who volunteer are indescribably good,” she said.

‘It’s very fulfilling’

Volunteers at the Hancock County Public Library logged 3,160 hours of community service in 2014. That’s nearly the work of two full-time employees.

Those volunteers organize shelves, work at events and help with book sales. Their assistance is essential to keeping the library running, said executive assistant Mary Lynn Burrows.

“They touch every aspect of the library,” she said. “They’re so dedicated. Rain or shine, they’re here.”

Senior citizens make up a majority of the library’s volunteer force, and most of them are looking for something to do post-retirement, Burrows said.

When Sharon Livingston retired about five years ago from her librarian job with Eastern Hancock Schools, she was looking for a way to stay active. Now she spends two days a week at the library, finding joy in the same atmosphere where she spent her career.

She also wanted to give back to the community, knowing the different volunteers can make. As a librarian, she had several dedicated volunteers who made her job easier.

“I wanted to be that kind of person for the public library,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling.”

Helping hands

Hancock Regional Hospital’s 400 volunteers are some of the first people visitors see when they come to a place where many don’t feel comfortable.

These volunteers aren’t dealing with medical care. They add a personal touch to the hospital that puts patients at ease, Earlywine said.

When patients and family members come in, they’re greeted by friendly faces that alleviate fear and anxiety, she added.

“What people usually remember is that personal touch,” Earlywine said. “The volunteers are the people who deliver that.”

Ron LaVallee, 67, spent much of his professional life working in medical care. When it came time to retire, he wasn’t ready to quit working.

He’s been volunteering at the hospital for nearly four years and enjoys giving back to the community.

“It keeps me active and alive,” he said.

Greenfield resident Janet Huebner’s reason for volunteering at the hospital is a bit more personal.

Before retiring, she was hospitalized there and appreciated how kind everyone was.

“I was impressed with that,” said Huebner, 69. “It’s a good place, and I’m really glad I’m a part of it.”

“It’s helped me become a little bit better of a person,” she said.

Earlywine has been working at the hospital for about six years, and she’s never had to recruit volunteers because community members are so eager to help. And the hospital would not be the same place without those volunteers.

“They’re such an intricate part of the hospital,” she said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”

Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or