The 1,200 volunteers make up about third of the people working within the VA Loma Linda Healthcare System. The following four volunteers offer an example of the special men and women who take care of the not so little things at the Medical Center.
Officially, Lonnie Hawthorne volunteers in the VA Loma Linda GI Lab and Orthopedics department, but he is depended upon to function in a third, yet unofficial, capacity.
Hawthorne makes his way around the Medical Center on a scooter to visit many employees and fellow volunteers before he begins taking care of correspondence in the GI Lab. He squeezes in a few more visits on his way to start making appointment reminder calls in the Orthopedics department.
He’s a people person. In fact, his favorite part of volunteering is working with kind and respectful staff members—most of which find Hawthorne to be the highlight of their day and an inspiration.
“No matter what happens with him, you never see him get flustered. You never see him complain. I admire the guy, I really do,” said Patient Care Coordinator Marcus Hayes.
According to Hayes, Hawthorne is one of the hardest working and most enthusiastic volunteers at the VA Loma Linda. Though Hawthorne seems to be somewhat of a celebrity around the Medical Center, Hayes described him as a humble person.
The Duarte area raised Army Veteran has been volunteering at the VA Loma Linda since 1999. For fun he settles for a game of dominoes or cards, but would be playing basketball if it wasn’t for his physical disability. While people know Hawthorne for his room brightening presence, they know the next volunteer as he grew up at the facility.
James Miles began volunteering in his mid-teens; he is now 33 years old. As a full-time volunteer, he spends 40 hours a week at the Medical Center escorting wheel chair bound patients.
Last year, Miles was featured in The Sun, a San Bernardino County newspaper, for his exemplary VA Loma Linda volunteer work and advocacy.
“It’s teamwork just like a job except we’re not getting paid. We’re all like a family and one big team to our Veterans, including the health care workers, employees, and volunteers,” said Miles.
Though many volunteers have individual assignments, Mary Becker and Donna McGonigal are a comfort cart duo. They deliver bags filled with items such as soap, deodorant, and hair brushes to new patients and those in need. Though Becker and McGonigal think of the items as comforts, some Veterans feel differently.
“When you go into a hospital you don’t really have comforts of home, but if you have something to brush your hair with, you feel much better even though you are sick,” said patient Crystal Avila—an Army/Army Reserve/National Guard Veteran of the Vietnam era.
She was so grateful for the comfort cart delivery that she hugged Becker.
The wife of an Air Force Veteran, Becker has been a VA Loma Linda volunteer for about 20 years. She also enjoys making crafts such as holiday tray favors and neck pillows, which she donates to the Medical Center.
McGonigal and Becker deliver the tray favors together. McGonigal, who is also a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) volunteer, has worked at the Medical Center for 10 years. At 71, the Army Veteran wife is about five years older than Becker’s oldest child. McGonigal’s youngest child is the same age with James Miles, the volunteer mentioned previously.
Like Miles, Becker and McGonigal agreed that the patients are their favorite part of volunteering.
“You can go in and start talking to some of them and you can see the smile on their faces, especially if you call them by their name,” said McGonigal.
To thank volunteers for their devotion to Veteran service, food and gift certificates were distributed during Volunteer Week.
According to Voluntary Services Chief Diana J. Gellentien, a much larger celebration for the Medical Center’s volunteers will take place in June.