Every day, women wearing pink jackets arrive at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg with one thing on their minds: Making people who come through the doors feel like they’re at home.
“I think it makes a difference,” says Joann Wattelet. “People come to a hospital and they are usually scared or are worried, or maybe they’re sad. They might even be a little intimidated. We just want to give our hospital a personal touch.”
Joann is referring to the “Pink Ladies,” a cadré of between 100 and 120 women who volunteer hundreds of hours each year in a variety of capacities.
Jake Chancey and Peggy Bennett offer smiles and directions at the information desk inside the front door, where they also maintain a small cart of gently used paperback books for sale; the profits go toward annual scholarships for Pittsburg State University students pursuing a degree in a health-related field.
Kay Patton works on crafting candy bouquets to sell in the nearby Gift Shop, where Joann keeps track of inventory and works at the cash register.
And Sharon Barone ensures the coffee maker is full and fresh in the Cancer Center, that patients there have someone to escort them to scans, and that mail goes out and food comes in as needed.
“I felt like God wanted me here,” says Sharon, who began volunteering 17 years ago. “Along the way I’ve had the chance to serve former classmates, friends, even my own family. And some have died. It makes me realize this is where I want to be, where I need to be.”
As for Joann, who has volunteered for decades and now is 82, being a Pink Lady has meant gaining as much as she’s given, she says.
“I look forward to it,” she says. “It gets me out of bed. If you can do something for somebody, it makes you feel good. If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I’d do. And I’m active here — it’s good for my own health.”
Returning the favor
Some, like Jake, started when they were young women, some 40 years ago just as the hospital opened its doors at this location. Others, like Peggy, were inspired because of their own experience with the hospital.
“My husband was in the hospital over and over, and I was here so much. The Pink Ladies were so nice, and I decided that as soon as I was able, I would return the favor,” Peggy says. That chance came in 2004, and she’s been volunteering ever since.
Kay, who also serves as treasurer of the Gift Shop, says the volunteers touch patient lives in another way. The proceeds the shop raises enable the hospital to purchase needed items. Last year, that was $18,000 for wheelchairs, $30,000 toward a 3D mammogram machine and $2,000 for upgrades in community relations.
And, at Christmastime, their giving extends outside of the hospital, as well: For several years, they’ve given time and money to ensure dozens of children in the state foster system have gifts to unwrap on Christmas morning, as an extension of an effort Susan Barrett, leader of Volunteer Services, took on herself.
Besides the pink jackets, they all have one thing in common: None of them want the spotlight for their efforts.
“I enjoy people,” Kay says. “You meet so many different kinds, and most people are so good and are so friendly. We feel like we’re making a difference to the community.”
While the majority of the volunteers are female, the program also attracts a few males.
Among them: Bob Mays, who drives the parking lot trolley, picking visitors and patients up at their cars or the door to help them reach their destination more easily and comfortably. A widower, he now looks forward to reporting for duty three mornings a week as a way to interact with the public and to serve others.
“It’s very rewarding for everyone, and for me,” says Barrett, the program’s leader. “It makes me see what I want to be like when I retire. These women and men are truly making people feel at home.”