"Why is there no train if it's called a subway?"
"Why don't they install moving walkways, like at airports?"
"How do you get to Carroll's Corn?"
These are just a sampling of the questions that have been asked over the years at the eight Welcome Desks around Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. "I hear a question or comment that I have never heard before, every shift I work," Bonnie Maher says. And considering Bonnie has been on the "job" since 1989, that's saying something. She's logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,400 volunteer hours since then, many of them spent answering questions from patients and visitors. She's given directions to some campus locations so often, she tells us, that "I could say them in my sleep!"
Bonnie's not alone in her efforts to leave no question unanswered. Last year, 161 people served as volunteers at Mayo's Welcome Desks (not to be confused with the Information Desks around Mayo, which are staffed by employees), providing close to 13,000 hours of service. Some of those volunteers are retired Mayo Clinic physicians and staff members.
Carol Swanson is among that group, and says it was her time as an employee that inspired her to give back as a volunteer after retirement. "I could see that the enormity of coming to Mayo Clinic for an appointment was overwhelming for some patients," she says. "People really appreciate finding someone that can reassure them along their way through their stay at Mayo."
Carol and other Welcome Desk volunteers do all that and more. While the bread and butter of most shifts is giving directions and offering recommendations for a place to eat, volunteers also frequently find themselves providing a much-needed smile or listening ear. Some people "just want to talk about their experiences," Bonnie tells us. Including, it seems, staff members. Some of Bonnie's favorite memories, she says, "were the times Sister Generose would stop by and talk about her day, or her health, or her family."
Mayo staff also ask a "fairly significant number" of questions at the Welcome Desks, Brian Lesher tells us. "I think that would surprise people."
What probably wouldn't surprise people, though, is this: "Most people that come to Mayo really would prefer not to be there," Brian, who has been volunteering for close to five years, says. Patients and visitors are often under tremendous stress, worried about their own health or the health of a loved one. "If I can do anything to make their experience less stressful, I have accomplished my goal," Brian tells us. "I simply want to help."
That seems to be what motivates other volunteers as well. "Meeting, helping and visiting with people," is the best part of the job, Bonnie says. "I hope to be able to serve in this area as long as I am able."
If you'd like to join the ranks of volunteers at the Welcome Desk or elsewhere at Mayo Clinic, you can learn more here. And you're always welcome to leave a comment below. Then use the handy social media tools to share this story with others.