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Volunteers give back and give thanks to VCU Health

Embodying VCU Health’s core values, two long-time volunteers share why they continue to provide support to the health system.

Woman with a facemask on hands a paper to another woman. JoAnn Burton hands physical therapist Cathy Van Drew a grant for “Comprehensive Development Care for NICU Patients.” Burton, a member of the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary, is also a long time volunteer with the health system. (Left to right: Cathy Van Drew and JoAnn Burton) (VCU Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Jayla Parker

Behind every doctor, nurse or knowledgeable staff member making VCU Health a top place for patients to receive care in the region, there’s a volunteer helping on the sidelines – finding unique ways to make a meaningful impact.

VCU Health’s Volunteer Services provides a variety of ways for people to become involved within the health system. Each year, the department works with about 1,000 people who have signed up to volunteer in various roles working directly with patients and visitors or helping out behind-the-scenes. Some stay for a few months, while others stay for years.

“Volunteers have chosen to give their time to benefit the VCU Health community in a way that is meaningful to them and to those who benefit from their service. They add to the experience of patients and visitors because they have time to provide an extra level of service,” said Amanda Landes, CAVS, CDVS, director of Volunteer Services at VCU Health. “Some volunteers, including peer visitors, are able to personally relate to what patients and families are going through and can use their own history to provide support and hope.”

Striving to enhance the well-being of our patients and visitors, Joe Shocket and JoAnn Burton have been volunteering for more than 10 years.

“As a senior in retirement, it gives me something to look forward to almost every day,” Shocket said. “If you’re still working, or a student in school, it is a plus for the resume and can go toward school credit for community service."

Shocket has been volunteering since 2010. One of the places you may see him volunteering is at the VCU Health Gateway Information Desk during the weekends.

“If you are a people person, it’s a great way to meet new people,” he said. “I get a lot of satisfaction from volunteering, and I plan to do it for as long as I can.”

Two men holding flags at the Heart Walk.

Joe Shocket and Tommy Broughton participated in the American Heart Association’s 2023 Heart Walk. Both also volunteer with the Richmond chapter of Mended Hearts. (Left to right: Tommy Broughton and Joe Shocket) (Contributed photo)

He's also a member of the Richmond chapter of Mended Hearts Incorporated, a visiting program that provides support and encouragement to heart patients and family members. As a former heart patient himself, Shocket engages with patients while visiting several local hospitals, including VCU Health Pauley Heart Center, on an equal footing, fostering peer-to-peer relationships.

“Having been a heart patient in the past, I know what both the patient and the family member are going through. I share the empathy of being in bed and needing help from the nurses to do almost everything,” Shocket said. “So, comforting and reassuring patients and families is my way of saying thanks for taking care of me.”

VCU Medical Center’s Three Bears Gift Shop is home to a variety of gifts and flowers to make patients and families feel supported during their stay at the hospital. The shop is where Burton has been volunteering since 1999. She’s now a board member of the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary, serving as the chair of the grants program.

“These people are going through God knows what with their loved ones, and they just need a place to come and get away from the stress. That’s one of the things that the gift shop is there for,” Burton said.

As a board member of the auxiliary, Burton plays a significant role in shaping decisions related to activities within the medical center.

Affiliated with the medical center’s Volunteer Services, the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary extends its support to patients, visitors and staff at VCU Medical Center by means of service, fundraising, and various activities. Additionally, they provide a welcoming and nurturing atmosphere to inspire and assist our volunteers in their dedicated service.

The Auxiliary recently awarded around $273,000 to fund projects driven by team members that are not covered by the hospital budget. Those projects could include providing supportive shoes for diabetic patients and hosting a prom for pediatric cancer patients. Burton has been heavily involved in the event, coordinated with the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s pediatric hematology and oncology department.

“There was a young lady who hung her prom dress on the door in her hospital room because that's what she was going to wear to her school’s prom that year, but she wasn’t able to go,” Burton said. “The following year, she wore her dress to our prom at the hospital, brought her date and all of her best friends and anyone else she wanted to invite.”

Seeing the moments of joy and comfort for patients and their caregivers, through volunteering at events like the prom or Mended Hearts, is what inspires volunteers like Burton and Shocket.

“For those considering VCU Health volunteering, be positive, tactful, and remember that you’ll encounter some family members experiencing a very tough time in their lives, so be caring,” Shocket said. “The VCU Health team members in the volunteer office are also wonderful to work with.”

For Burton, her continued commitment to VCU Health was also brought on by her family’s experience with the health system. She’s witnessed the exceptional care for her child, who has epilepsy.

“I have a son whose life was literally saved here at VCU Health. So, if I'm going to give back, I'm going to give back to this institution,” Burton said.