The gift of effort: Volunteers help make communities work

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Michael Roknick, The Herald, Sharon, Pa.
·5 min read
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Apr. 17—Tipping a coffee container, Donna Anderson pours out a hot cup of coffee for a visitor at AHN Grove City hospital.

Anderson has volunteered at the hospital's coffee shop for five years. At 89, she proves age isn't a barrier to helping out.

"I'll keep volunteering until God takes me," Anderson pledges.

Sunday begins National Volunteer Week, when Americans celebrate those working for free at organizations and businesses. It's also a time where people are encouraged to join the ranks of those who give back to their communities.

Anderson learned the habit at a young age. A Grove City resident raised in Jefferson Township, she came from a large family that promoted helping.

"All of us did a lot of volunteering at our church," she said.

Anderson is among 55 volunteers at the Pine Township hospital who perform a variety of duties.

Their dedication is appreciated. And, for months last year during the COVID-19 pandemic's worst period, missed.

"I am proud of the contribution that our volunteers continue to make to our patients and our community," said Dr. David Tupponce, AHN Grove City president. "From greeters, to escorts, to helping run the coffee shop like Donna — the return of volunteers to Grove City Medical Center has been greeted by staff and public alike with the same excitement as seeing the first flowers in the spring."

During the pandemic and ensuing vaccine drive, volunteers have been crucial.

Semi-retired nurse Sharon Kudelko, 68, donates her time at Sharon Regional Medical Center's vaccine clinics.

Kudelko cited dedication as a reason to volunteer. But she gained even more motivation in early December, when she contracted COVID-19, a gruesome experience she doesn't want others to endure.

"It was pretty bad," she said of debilitating symptoms. "I got very scared when I had shortness of breath, a headache and got very fatigued."

A South Pymatuning resident, Kudelko said she understands that many bouts with the virus don't go even that well.

"I knew three people who died of COVID," Kudelko said. "I'm still working and volunteering to make sure the COVID vaccine gets to as many people as possible."

Although she was never hospitalized, it took over a month before her body got back to normal.

The 50-year nurse was impelled to volunteer as an extension of her career — she graduated 50 years ago from the Sharon General Hospital School of Nursing.

"I'm one of those crazy people who love what they do and want to give back," Kudelko said. "I want to give back, I want to give back to the community and the school I graduated from."

She finds people are getting joy from the vaccinations, especially those who had been frustrated waiting to get their shot.

"For so many they're so elated and so happy they got the vaccine," Kudelko said.

With more than 100 volunteers, Sharon Regional accepts volunteers only at its vaccine clinics, located next door to the Sharon hoispital in its nursing school building.

Michelle Schmader, director of education services for Sharon Regional, said volunteers have been crucial in the success of its vaccine clinics. The volunteers' work includes contacting thousands of patients to register and schedule their injection appointments.

"The medical center could not have met the needs of the community without the volunteers' time, compassion and willingness to go above and beyond during this pandemic in our vaccine clinic," Schmader said. "We've had retired physicians and nurses, and those working at other full time jobs who have given their time to give administer vaccines."

Kudelko isn't the only retired health care professional answering the call for volunteers to help put COVID-19 to an end.

Russ Lauffer retired three years ago as a pharmacist at thge Walberg Family Pharmacies regional drug store chain. A Hempfield Township resident, he offers his talents to the pharmacy's vaccine clinics. On Thursday, he prepared injections for the company's Thiel College second-dose clinic held in Passavant Center.

"I've always been involved somewhere," Lauffer said.

Helping out at the vaccine clinics is coming naturally — he's lost track of all his volunteer activities

In the greater Greenville area, he coaches youth basketball, works at the Knights of Columbus bingo, participates as a eucharistic minister at St. Michael's Catholic Church, and hands out food pantry goods.

"When people find out you volunteer, you get a lot of phone calls," Lauffer said, laughing.

In a more serious tone, he said volunteering is about more than keeping busy.

"Volunteering is so rewarding," Lauffer said. "When you see people who are in need and how gratified they are when you help means a lot."

Without outside help, there's no way the company could pull off hosting the 36 clinics it has performed, said Bretton Walberg, president of the pharmacy chain.

"Volunteers are the backbone of these clinics," Walberg said. "We have employees who are volunteering on their days off."

For other volunteers, giving time is their answer to a call from a higher power. Annie Ball has been donating four hours weekly at Fresh Grounds Coffeehouse & Cafe.

Located in downtown Greenville, the coffee house offers non-alcoholic beverages, breakfast sandwiches and baked goods. More importantly, the cafe is an outreach ministry that involves volunteers of all faiths.

"It's the building of relationships here that I like the most," Ball said of interacting with customers. "They need to be heard."

Ball works the register, makes beverages and cleans up wherever needed. But her duties involve more than food — Fresh Grounds volunteers focus on Christian witness. Customers are invited to say prayers with cafe volunteers and paid workers before and after shifts.

And Ball is instilling the values of volunteering on the next generation — her 14-year-old-son, Alexander, began volunteering at the cafe a month ago.

"I like it immensely," he said. "And I'll be doing this through our summer break."