World Travelers Share Joy and Blessings as Volunteers
Hardin Valley residents Rick and Carolynn Johnson have been married for 44 years. They have lived all over the world, and in retirement chose to call East Tennessee home. In addition to their hobbies and pastimes, they volunteer once a week at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.
The Johnsons have each served on healthcare boards and councils before coming to East Tennessee. “It was a natural fit,” Carolynn says.
Making a Connection
Before traveling the world, the Johnsons hailed from Minnesota by way of Colorado. After retiring from their careers in 1999, the pair spent time doing volunteer work in South America and Europe. From global service to an East Tennessee hospital, Rick says, “We are just regular people who show up to help whatever is going on.”
They each regularly visit the same hospital floors each week, and the staff has become familiar with them. “I have adopted the eighth floor,” Carolynn says. “I go to each patient room and introduce myself. I explain that I’m not clinical but that I’m there to check on them. It often turns into chitchat, and every interaction makes my day.”
Rick has two floors that he visits each week. “I introduce myself and ask if everyone is comfortable, and I might bring an extra blanket or pillow for the family member. They always show appreciation just having someone ask how they are doing. Especially if that person is alone.”
Carolynn says, “We just listen to people’s stories and even bring humor and lightheartedness to a tough situation. We connect people with the hospital chaplains if they want spiritual care.”
The two are active hikers, readers and language enthusiasts. “I was able to speak Spanish with a patient the other day, and I was glad to make a connection,” Carolynn says. With a twinkle, Rick says, “We are not from around here. So we often get to laugh with others about our Midwestern accents.”
Rick also finds it easy to connect with U.S. military veterans. A U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, he delights in swapping stories with other servicemen and women and hopes it puts them at ease.
Help for Staff and Families
Rick and Carolynn also spend time stocking supplies in patient rooms and nearby storage areas. The pair ensures there are gloves, laundry bags, blankets and other ancillary supplies close at hand.
Rick says, “The staff is doing remarkable work, and they are very thankful when we keep them stocked.”
Julie Dougherty is the manager of volunteer services at Fort Sanders Regional. “Our volunteers truly make a big difference to everyone here,” Julie says. “We place people where they want to be in various departments. We have needs in each area for people who are not necessarily medically trained. The volunteers may stock supply carts in the emergency department or in every patient room. By doing what we can on the front end, it saves time for the medical staff. Even just bringing water to each room is a big help.”
Rick adds, “We have the ability to give the family member a break. We can give them a coupon for a snack in the cafeteria, and we offer to sit with their loved one in the room. We also may accompany visitors to the correct room and make sure they are comfortable. It’s a nice touch and connection they can make with someone besides their nurse and doctor.”
Blessed to be a Blessing
Carolynn encourages anyone with a little bit of extra time to consider volunteering. “Not all roles interact with patients,” she says. “There are many opportunities to volunteer. We have had a blessed life, and we want to bless others.”
“This is an easy program to recommend,” Rick says. “And Julie makes it fun. You get up in the morning, put your comfortable shoes on and your friendly face, and you just go on in and meet some people.”
They’ve enjoyed their volunteering experience so much, Carolynn posted a story on her neighborhood’s social media page, which resulted in adding two more volunteers to the program.
Carolynn adds, “It’s free, it’s fun and you feel like you’re accomplishing something. What it does for your heart is amazing. All you need is a smile and a little bit of heart.”