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April 23rd, 2015

A Life Volunteered — Celebrating 60 Years of Service to Patients

By In the Loop

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Even as big-check presentations go, one that happened this week at a Mayo Clinic volunteer recognition event in Rochester was a doozy. The volunteers presented a check in the amount of $3,478,250 to Jeff Bolton, vice president, Administration, at Mayo Clinic. The check, which represented 143,079 hours of volunteer service on Mayo's Rochester campus in 2014, may not have been real, but everything it symbolized certainly was. And while the check may have put a dollar amount on the volunteers' contributions, based on what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says volunteer time is worth, Bolton responded saying there's really no way to put a price on what Mayo's volunteers do for patients every day.

"It's interesting to quantify, but what you do for Mayo Clinic truly is priceless," Bolton said. "You are a calming effect and have a significant impact on the patient experience."

One volunteer who has had a significant impact on the patient experience for many, many years is Billie Needham. This year, she celebrated her 60th anniversary as a volunteer, going back to her days as a charter member of the Rochester Methodist Hospital Auxiliary, which was formed in 1955. Billie, who is 96 years young, tells us some of her earliest memories of volunteering included shopping for patients and doing, really, anything else "that would help the patient." One of her early duties was helping to sew caps -- more than 6,000 in all -- for nursing students at the Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing, which she continued to do until 1970, when the school closed. Over the years, she has also knitted 4,044 caps for babies born at the Rochester Methodist campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital.

Billie was also an important presence at the Rochester Methodist Hospital Gift Shop, where she volunteered from its beginnings in 1966 until just two years ago, when she says she "retired" from that role. "There's something about working in the gift shop," she says. "Someone could walk in, and you could tell when they needed to talk to somebody. I found that was one of the key things for serving in the shop. And that's what I miss."

Billie's husband, Gerald Needham, Ph.D., is also a longtime Auxiliary volunteer, having caught the volunteer bug after retiring from Mayo Clinic 33 years ago. (His support of volunteer efforts goes back much further, as he was a member of the hospital's board when the auxiliary was founded.) The Needhams will tell you that volunteering is as rewarding for the volunteer as it is for those they serve. "There's something about being a volunteer," Billie says. "You're doing it because you want to do it. We do it because we want to be of service."

And Kim Van Roy, director of Volunteer Services at Mayo, says that's what being a Mayo Clinic volunteer is all about. "What impresses me most is your consistency in carrying out your acts of kindness," she told the more than 500 volunteers who attended Monday's gathering.

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Tags: Billie Neeham, Community, volunteers

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