MVH History — Volunteers

The story of Miami Valley Hospital’s volunteers is one of a special group of people who give generously of their time and talent to help patients and their families have the most pleasant hospital experience possible.

It’s the story of Jane Maxwell, who in 2012 at age 91 had given more hours (21,266) to MVH than any active volunteer at the time.

It’s the story of Richard Burke of the Pet Therapy program, who with other volunteers traversed the halls with their canine companions, visiting patients and delighting scores of others they met along the way.

And it’s the story of thousands of giving souls who have played a vital role at MVH since it was founded in 1890 as the Protestant Deaconess Hospital.

“The volunteers here bring so much joy, not only to the patients, but to the staff as well,” said MVH President and CEO Bobbie Gerhart in 2012. “Everyone at MVH benefits from their contributions. These people do everything they do with heart, and it makes a difference, one smile at a time.”

Many roles

Each year roughly 1,000 volunteers give more than 150,000 hours of work to the hospital, saving MVH millions in salaries and benefits, according to Olivia Hester, the Volunteer Services longtime director who retired in September 2012.

Among their roles, volunteers greet and direct visitors, they run the hospital’s two gift shops, they deliver mail and flowers, and they sit with patients, providing a friendly, reassuring presence.

“We have volunteers in just about every area of the hospital,” said Hester.

Most are women, about 65 percent, and most, also 65 percent, are over the age of 70. Each has different reasons for volunteering, but there’s a common thread throughout — a desire to serve, to help others and to be a part of something special.

“I’ve enjoyed every department I’ve worked in,” said Mrs. Maxwell, the energetic nonagenarian who started volunteering here in 1984. “I do it because I love it. It’s interesting and I’ve met a lot of people.”

For Richard Burke, the pet therapist, it was the chance to brighten a patient’s day, even for just a few moments, that kept him volunteering for seven years until his standard poodle, Wilby, died in early 2012.

“You go into a patient’s room and they look like they’re having just the worst day in their life,” Burke reflected. “Then they see your dog and they get the biggest smile on their face.”

Impact of Great Recession

The U.S. economy took a downward turn in 2007 and spawned what would become known as the Great Recession, the longest economic contraction in post-WWII America on record. Plants closed, unemployment grew, families lost their homes.

In the Dayton area, once known as a “General Motors town,” the last GM plant here, a truck and SUV assembly plant, closed permanently in December 2008. Thousands lost their jobs.

Many from the unemployment line came to MVH seeking volunteer opportunities.

“We had more people come in the door than we had positions, and we eventually had to turn people away,” remembered Vickie Noble, who succeeded Olivia Hester as Volunteer Services director. “Most of our volunteers come on board for years, because they’re retired.

A lot of these applicants were looking to fill time because they were tired of sitting around the house or they were looking to reinvent themselves and they were in school and needed additional experiences. Our thought at the time was trying to find positions that would suit their needs but also fill the hospital’s needs. We were careful, though, not to bring people on board with the false hope of getting a job here. It doesn’t work that way.”

Volunteer board

MVH’s volunteers are governed by a board of 12 volunteers. Among the board’s roles, it decides the department’s fundraising efforts and how the proceeds might be used to benefit hospital staff, patients and visitors.

It’s not unusual for the volunteers to raise more than $150,000 a year, funds that go on to support or create a variety of important services. Past projects include a helipad for CareFlight Air and Mobile Services, a computer lab in the Center of Nursing Excellence, and the Healing Garden at the main campus. Receipts have also funded sign language classes for nutrition services and other employees so they could communicate better with hearing- or speech-impaired coworkers.


One of the most popular and ambitious of the fundraising efforts is the annual Buckeye sale in December.

A group of volunteers started making the chocolate-covered, peanut butter delights as a holiday fundraiser back in the early 1970s. The project began in their homes and later moved to the hospital’s Maxon Parlor. That’s where around 35 volunteers, each tasked with completing a different step in the process, hold a Buckeye-making marathon over several days in advance of the winter holidays. In 2012, the volunteers cranked out more than 22,000 buckeyes for the big sale.

“They’re the best you'll ever taste,” said Noble.


The Volunteen program provides a way for high school students to earn their school’s required community service hours. (Back in the day, they were known as candy stripers.) The students, 14 to 18 years of age, work in a variety of areas, usually for three or so hours a day, one day a week. MVH rewards teens with at least 100 service hours with college scholarships of varying amounts — $500 for 100 hours; $750 for 150-199 hours and $1,000 for 200 or more hours.

Noble, who joined the volunteer department in 1994, said many volunteens will return to MVH after college or a post-high school program to work as nurses, radiology technicians, patient care technicians or in some other allied health field.

“Our Volunteen program has been a great pipeline for recruitment,” she said.

One standout in years past was Saba Chaudhry, a Beavercreek High School student who started in the mid-2000’s as a quiet girl who was so shy she wouldn’t eat in the hospital cafeteria; she would bring her food back to the Volunteer Services office instead. But before graduating from high school, “Saba had blossomed into a leader with an out-going personality and specific goals of becoming a physician,” Noble remembered.

Saba reached that goal, returning to MVH along the way to complete her rotations as a medical student at the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and then again as resident in internal medicine.

Another Volunteen, Amogha Krishna, was honored on MVH’s Wall of Excellence in April 2013 during National Volunteer Week. Amogha, then a Beavercreek High School student, started volunteering in 2009 “to get hands-on experience in hospital life,” improve his social and communication skills, learn more about his community and serve people in need.

“I want to be a doctor, so volunteering and shadowing doctors at MVH was the perfect experience booster,” said Amogha, who plans to focus on neuroscience as a student at The Ohio State University. “I got to learn so much from the doctors I shadowed, the patients they took care of, and the administration that helped me through the process. To me, every day at MVH was a special memory — everyday that I delivered roses to patients or checked if patients needed water; every day I had the opportunity to shadow a nurse or a doctor; everyday that I walked through those halls; even those days when I was stuck stapling paperwork and delivering mail.”

Rewards and gratitude

MVH rewards its volunteers in a number of ways — there’s Volunteer Appreciation Week in April, for instance, and an annual luncheon in November that recognizes those who have reached certain milestones. Those who have served 3,000 or more hours become members of the Key Club, a lifetime achievement status that honors members with a special pin, an annual luncheon and invitations to special events. Members also get their names engraved on a gold plate that hangs on the MVH Volunteer Key Club plaque in a hospital corridor.

Other benefits for volunteers include free meals and free parking, discounts at the gift shops and free flu shots. And some get their names and photos displayed on the hospital’s Wall of Excellence during National Volunteer Week in April.

For most, though, as Jane Maxwell would tell you, a simple “Thank You” is all they need.

“When I get a thank you,” said Jane, “it just makes my day.”

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