3 longtime Regional Health volunteers share their reasons for giving

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Rapid City Regional Hospital volunteers (from left) Mary Bartsch and Vicki Miller stand in the entrance to the hospital gift shop.

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Vicki Miller reluctantly agreed to volunteer at Rapid City Regional Hospital for four hours each week. The decision created an exit from “the big dark hole” inside her after her husband died, and that initial agreement has since grown into a full-time volunteer career.

Mary Bartsch has been a professional volunteer since youth. She kept that primary career after ending her other full-time job as a professional counselor. “I feel a passion for it,” she said.

Joyce Bjork displays some of the many items her volunteer sewing group provides to Rapid City Regional Hospital patients and families.

Joyce Bjork seldom watches as patients or families receive the many creations she has sewn during 24,000 volunteer hours given over 37 years, “but for the most part, I’m pretty sure our stuff helps.”

Different things attracted them - reluctantly, as a family tradition, as part of a mission - but they agreed upon the rewards, belonging, meaning, purpose.

The pay isn’t great, but the hours are flexible, all agreed.

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Their contributions won’t earn any of these essential Regional Health volunteers an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but they know how much they contribute.

“We do a lot of little bitty things that make a huge impact,” Miller said.

Miller retired as a hairdresser and visited Regional Hospital regularly as her husband, a retired electrician, slowly succumbed to mesothelioma. At first it was four hours.

“I loved it,” she said. Now, years later, she gives 30 per week.

Bjork’s mother involved her in Regional Hospital’s sewing group in 1980. Since then, the group has expanded its offerings from four types of items to more than 20. Among the 3,500 items produced by her group in a year: neck pillows for patients, bibs for babies, other feel good comfort items.

“I like to sew,” Bjork says humbly, pulling out pillows for cancer patients, items for children, and other pieces of hand-made love.

Bartsch was married to a physician for 50 years. Her father, a pastor, told her the greatest ministry occurs in the surgery area. Today, she spends hours with waiting patient families about to receive good news, bad news, life-changing news.

“You get to know people,” she said. “Families come back and visit with us.”

In 2016, 343 volunteers served 36,214 hours at Regional Health. Since 1973, the volunteers have raised $3.4 million for the hospital. Hospital volunteers were recognized April 19, as part of National Volunteer Week, which this year runs April 23-29, according to Konnie Sorensen, manager of Volunteer Services.

People ask these longtime volunteers what they do and why they give so much. In response, they speak of how they cry with patients, what they create for them and the joy they deliver. They have many stories to tell of compassion and connection.

It’s not for everybody, but Miller found it was for her.

“For somebody who didn’t want to do it,” she said, “I love it.”

Information from Regional Health

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