Thursday marked Sandra Lavoie’s first day as a volunteer with Saint Francis Hospital’s auxiliary in more than 50 years — since the summer of 1961, when she and a Charleston Catholic High School classmate worked as candy stripers at the 100-year-old hospital.
“I told them I would be back,” she joked.
Lavoie, a retired teacher and Charleston native, said she always wanted to return to Saint Francis to volunteer with its auxiliary, which is celebrating 60 years of service this year.
“The advantage here, in my view, is that you have so many people here who know each other, either from the church or the community,” Lavoie said. “I was a candy striper here going into my junior year, and we put in 100 hours during the summer. At that time, we were working in the gift shop, and we had a cart that we would fill with goodies and magazines, and we went around the whole hospital, room to room. The nuns would just give us the keys to the shop.”
For Toni Scriptunas, her volunteer stint began in 1964 and hasn’t stopped. Scriptunas, 88, said that after 50 years of volunteering at Saint Francis, she still loves showing up for work.
“I still like it,” she said. “People always ask me, ‘How long have you been here?’ When my husband retired from Carbide, I talked him into volunteering, too. We helped run the gift shop together. When he passed away, I went to Admitting. I just love it.”
Next week is also National Volunteer Week, and according to Mary Williams, volunteer coordinator for Saint Francis, the 80 volunteers who work in the hospital have become an important supplement to its employees and patients.
“The good thing about volunteers is that they choose to be here — they are getting something back, but they’re giving to the community,” Williams said. “They have the extra ears to listen to a patient in distress, or the time to hold the hand of a patient that’s waiting in surgery. They do the extra things. We always say that volunteers do not supplant employees, but that they supplement employees.”
The hospital’s auxiliary began in 1954 with a group of women who already did volunteer work for the hospital but wanted to have a greater impact, Williams said. They started a snack bar to raise money for the hospital, and in 60 years, the auxiliary has expanded to nearly every branch of the hospital.
“They wanted to raise money for the hospital; they started buying equipment, things like that,” she said. “Today, it’s similar, but we’ve really expanded. The auxiliary runs our gift shop, but the volunteer roles have expanded unbelievably, because they’re no longer just at the gift shop or information desk — they’re in surgery waiting areas, they’re in the admitting department, they’re in the physical therapy department — they’re in a lot of roles where they’re helping staff to care for patients.”
Williams said that while many of the volunteers at Saint Francis are older, the hospital also sees a fair number of young volunteers, especially during the summer months.
Saint Francis and Thomas Hospital are currently taking applications for its VolunTEEN program, a summer program for 14-18 year olds that runs from the end of the school year until late July.
“We’re always looking to add volunteers — I don’t think there’s any hospital that can say, ‘We have too many volunteers,’” Williams said. “There are always positions available because there’s always turnover; people have health issues or move or change jobs.”
Lavoie, who also teaches business classes online and volunteers at the Clay Center, said those who have retired and are still in good health should strongly consider giving back to the community through volunteering.
“As long as you’re healthy, I think you need to stay active, because I think when you stay active, it keeps you healthier,” she said. “I always wanted to come back to Saint Francis. I love it. I think I’m going to enjoy it. I enjoy people, and I just want to be able to give back to Saint Francis.”
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