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April 25, 2006 > Kaiser Permanente salutes volunteers

Kaiser Permanente salutes volunteers

by Johnny Ng

In recognition of National Volunteer Week, we would like to commend the best in American spirit, and to encourage all Americans to improve their communities through volunteer service, and civic participation. This year, Kaiser would like to thank the following people, as well as the hundreds of other volunteers, for their valuable time and effort.

Mary and Joe Harmeyer

Mary and Joe Harmeyer admit that they are people of habit. Every Saturday morning, they have coffee and pastries at the same cafˇ before going shopping for groceries. At least once a week, they go to the post office and then to their favorite donut shop in San Leandro for a three-hour "coffee break," just like on their first date.

Every Tuesday, Mary and Joe volunteer at the Kaiser Permanente Union City Medical Offices, as they have done for the past 13 years. After retiring from his job as an accountant for the city of Alameda, Joe "puttered around the house." When Mary retired from her job as a teaching assistant in Hayward two years later, she felt they needed to stay busy.

"We just decided that we needed to do something and get out of the house," said Mary. "We wanted to do something productive."

They decided to volunteer at Kaiser Permanente because both are longtime members and all four of their children were born in Kaiser Permanente hospitals. Mary, 76, is part of the volunteer team that provides blood pressure checks and Joe, 82, helps out at the health education center.

During her four-hour volunteer shift, Mary can check the blood pressure of up to 30 people, many of whom come in on a regular basis. Her past career as a teaching assistant fits in well with her position which requires strong social and communication skills.

"A lot of time, this is their first social contact of the day and sometimes they just want to talk and be heard," she said. "You just hold their hands longer until they are okay."

Armed with a strong sense of humor and an easy laugh, Joe is popular around the medical offices. At the health education center, he makes copies, assembles folder packets and pitches in with special mail projects. As Joe walks around the center, doctors and members immediately recognize and wave to him. "This is a great place to volunteer, the people and atmosphere, everything," he said.

Mary and Joe are also members of a committee that gives student achievement awards for high school and college-age students who volunteer at Kaiser Permanente. They are proud to see the volunteer spirit in those much younger.

"You can just tell how volunteering has become a part of their lives," said Joe. "No one stays with it if it is not satisfying."

Joe first met Mary when a friend took him to a choir practice for the Oakland Light Opera. He was quickly smitten with a redhead that had a "beautiful contralto voice." The choir went bowling after practice and Joe tagged along. Later, when Mary's ride home broke down, Joe offered her a ride home but not before he took her for coffee at a local diner. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last November.

When Mary and Joe are not volunteering at Kaiser Permanente, they help out at their church or tackle one of their home projects like the gardening or working around their house. They also take time to travel. But volunteering remains the focus of their weekly schedule.

"Volunteering gives scope and plan for our lives," said Mary. "We don't feel like we wasted a day. Besides, we have six more days to waste."

Gerry Howell

Gerry Howell once saved someone's life simply by checking his blood pressure.

One day, as a volunteer at the blood pressure station at the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, she checked the blood pressure of a man who had dropped in, found it to be extremely high and told him to see a doctor immediately.

"He had a heart attack on the way to see his doctor," said Gerry. The man received emergency help and eventually recovered.

Every Monday morning, Gerry, 82, is busy checking the blood pressure at the Fremont medical center. During her four-hour shift, she can check up to 40 people who drop by.

"I like working with all kinds of wonderful people and with people who care about other people," she said.

In March, Gerry celebrated 22 years as a Kaiser Permanente volunteer. After retiring as school secretary at Williamson High School in Fremont, she met up with Ella Herman, a friend who piqued her interest in volunteering at Kaiser Permanente. And it didn't take much to encourage her.

"I just can't sit at home and watch television," she said. "I miss people and the constant interaction."

In her two decades of volunteering, she has happily accomplished many different assignments from staffing the information desks to greeting patients in various areas of the hospital.

Twice a month, Gerry also visits heart patients at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center as part of the "Mended Hearts" program. She hands out literature and other important information, speaks with the patients and often just offers a listening ear.

"A lot of people get depressed after heart surgery," she added.

Gerry has had direct experience with heart-health matters and heart patients. Her husband suffered a major heart attack in 1987 and a year later had bypass surgery. He now wears a pacemaker.

Even when she was working full-time and raising her two children, she reserved time to volunteer with the Girl's Scouts and with the Parent Teacher Association. Today, volunteering at Kaiser Permanente keeps her busy and she is doing something she truly enjoys.

"When you retire, it doesn't mean you have to retire from life," she said.

Nancy Cline

Nancy Cline confesses that she is addicted to volunteering.

"I'm one of these people that if you keep giving me things to do, I'll stay and keep working," she said.

Nancy began volunteering at the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center in 1993 after her daughter graduated from high school and has hardly missed a day.

"I had been a stay-at-home mom and I was looking for some part-time activities to keep me active," she said. "My BS in Family Services helped me make the decision to become a volunteer and my experience working in a hospital made Kaiser Permanente a perfect fit for me."

Nancy is the editor of Volunteer Connections, a semi-monthly newsletter for Kaiser Permanente volunteers in Fremont, Hayward and Union City. In 1995, she came up with the idea of the newsletter to increase the contact between volunteers in the three facilities and to keep them informed of new developments.

The newsletter can be considered a labor of love for her. She typically spends two mornings and up to 15 hours a week writing, editing and laying out an issue. But she doesn't consider the time and effort spent to be extensive.

"I love puzzles and I enjoy taking a bunch of things and putting them together," she added.

Since starting as a volunteer 13 years ago, Nancy has staffed many of the information desks. She is currently located in the hospital admitting department where she greets those who are being admitted for outpatient and inpatient procedures. She also helps direct people to the business office and assists the staff in those departments as needed.

"I enjoy helping people," she said. "Anything I can do as a volunteer to lessen the stress and bolster the sense of well-being of our members is a positive thing."

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