A Cup of Compassion: Volunteer Profile

The following is an excerpt from our 2013 Annual Report: A Recipe for Success.

a cup of compassion

During a trip to Hawaii in April of 2000, Irene Schaefer’s husband fell, hit his head, and died two days later at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu. Irene was completely alone, except for the chaplaincy volunteers at the hospital who sat with her during her husband’s final two days.

“It was traumatic and sad, but those people kept me going,” says Irene.

Just a month later, back in Randolph, a local reverend with the help of a team of area churchgoers started the volunteer chaplaincy program at Gifford. It was too soon for Irene, a local resident, but when a second training was scheduled that November, Irene signed up. “I had to get out and give back because of what I had been given in Hawaii.”

In the more than decade since, this now 85-year-old has made Gifford her “second home.” “It’s very rewarding. I get more out of it than I give,” she says.

She comes several times a month to spend a couple of hours visiting with patients. When a patient is dying, Irene offers a prayer “for a calm and smooth transition.” Mostly, though, she listens. “Everybody has a story,” she says.

She is often the person called in the night to comfort a patient or family in the Emergency Department.

For Irene, it is not her first “job” or even her first volunteer job. From New Jersey, Irene was a church secretary for years. Upon moving to Randolph 40 years ago, she worked at DuBois and King as the “girl Friday” distributing mail, developing photos in a dark room and operating the business’ first computer, which was roughly the size of Gifford’s chapel, she recalls. She went on to do computer work for a local accountant, until retiring in 1991. A decade of volunteering at White River Valley Ambulance in billing followed.

At WRVA, Irene chased down patients and insurance companies for payments.

At Gifford, the only payment a soft spoken, elegant and humorous Irene is seeking is peace of mind.

“I think I could write a book. The experiences have been from very humorous to very sad. I have had a marriage proposal,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve also been in the Garden Room (for end-of-life patients). I don’t want to say it’s my favorite place, but it’s a place where I feel comfortable, when some of the other (volunteers) do not, because I have been there personally, and I totally admire our palliative care system.”

That admiration and an ongoing need for a comforting hand and listening ear will keep Irene volunteering with Gifford’s chaplaincy program as long as she’s able.

“I look at it as a need. It’s a need that’s being fulfilled, which doesn’t happen at all hospitals. It’s part of Gifford’s outreach and caring and the reason why patients want to be here.”

Irene Schaefer

Irene Schaefer

Volunteer Profile: Elaine Soule

volunteer profileElaine Soule’s relationship with Gifford began at birth, and possibly before. Her mother graduated from the nursing school in 1923 and worked under hospital founder Dr. John P. Gifford. Elaine was born at the Randolph hospital in 1933.

Raised in Randolph Center, she attended local schools and married the summer following high school graduation. His career in the U.S. Air Force took them around the country and beyond. Elaine’s own six children were born on military bases in New York, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Bermuda, Louisiana, and Maryland.

In 1971, after 20 years of military life, the family returned to Randolph. Before the families’ furniture had even arrived, Elaine had landed a job at Randolph National Bank. She started out typing signature cards and eventually became a branch manager of what was Randolph Savings and Loan, then Vermont Federal and finally Vermont National over her 28-year career.

Along the way, Elaine worked at Gifford on weekends from 1990-1995 in patient registration. After retiring from the bank in 1998, she came to work at Gifford in 2001 as the volunteer services coordinator.

“I have always felt close to Gifford,” says Elaine, who served on the hospital Board of Trustees for nine years in the 1990s.

So when Elaine retired in 2006 after five years as volunteer services coordinator to undergo cancer treatment, she knew she’d be back. “I knew I’d come back to volunteer, because I wanted to be part of this place,” says Elaine. “I just loved the Gift Shop. I’d loved volunteering. I thought it was a way to continue to be involved with Gifford after I retired.”

For months, Elaine came to Gifford as a patient for chemotherapy treatments. “My cancer treatments were wonderful,” Elaine says, calling the staff “so compassionate”. When her treatments ended in early 2007, Elaine continued her trips to Gifford – this time as a volunteer two days a week in the Gift Shop.

“Now I don’t have to be here, but I choose to be here,” she says from her post behind the desk of the boutique. “I think the volunteers at the Gift Shop are great. I hope we serve a purpose. I think we do.”

For Elaine, now 79, it is about staying active and connected in her community and at her community hospital. “I love it because it gets me out of the house to meet people and I feel that I am contributing to Gifford in a small way,” she says.