In the spirit of giving thanks and giving back, it’s only appropriate to shine a spotlight on volunteers who give their time, personal experience, and expertise. We turned to Northern Westchester Hospital (NWH) and their volunteer programs and met with six of these inspirational volunteers serving NWH and our community.
Director of Volunteer Services Ellen Muentener oversees approximately 250 volunteers at the hospital. From high school and college students to senior citizens, NWH volunteers are passionate about what they do. Volunteers enhance the lives of others without the need for fanfare. Yet with each individual I met, the overwhelming consensus was that volunteering gives them much more than they give. However, volunteering is not for the faint of heart. You have to be tough while being kind, emotionally strong while being compassionate, and tireless while being tested.
Aside from the obvious benefits, what makes an individual want to volunteer?
In an article in Psychology Today, Dawn Carr, MGS, PhD, lists five benefits to volunteering. One benefit, in particular, stands out–volunteering gives you a sense of purpose. Volunteers live longer too. Volunteering also helps you to step outside yourself and your own life challenges and gives you a fresh, new perspective.
Let’s meet just a few of these impressive NWH volunteers:
Judy McGrath, is a 12-year volunteer and former president of Twigs-Thriftree Shop located at 449 Lexington Avenue in Mt. Kisco. Judy is a Chappaqua resident and an active member in the community including being involved with the New Castle Historical Society, the Chappaqua School Foundation, the PTA, and the Girl Scouts.
“I believe it’s so important to give back to the community,” says Judy.
Twigs of NWH was formed in 1945 and, currently, has 160 members split up into nine groups. However, its humble roots date back to 1887, where a small group would get together to hem hospital table napkins for Rochester City Hospital. The group started to grow, and Twigs groups began to crop up in hospitals all around the country.
Twigs is a not-for-profit organization set up exclusively to support Northern Westchester Hospital. “We are so fortunate to have such a great hospital right here in our community,” says Judy. Over the last 12 months, Twigs donated 78,500 volunteer hours. It’s impressive that a little thrift shop in Mt. Kisco could make such an impact benefiting the hospital. To date, Twigs has donated $3,300,000 to NWH. The shop offers a variety of items for sale like clothing, books, jewelry, household items, etc. In addition, Twigs volunteers put together layettes for the Prenatal Care Clinic that provides comprehensive care to underinsured and uninsured pregnant women in Westchester and Putnam Counties, helping to ensure healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Twigs also provides unique items such as cough pillows and tray favors to patients during the holidays.
This year, Twigs presented a check to NWH for $100,000. Each of the following NWH programs will receive $25,000: The Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center (KHCC), where family caregivers find respite and support; The Bruce and Andrea Yablon Cancer Health and Wellness Program, created to empower patients diagnosed with cancer to live a healthy lifestyle in ways that powerfully touch mind, body and spirit; the Community Health Education and Outreach Program, which partners with schools and local groups to build a healthier community; and the Integrative Medicine Program, dedicated to enhancing patients’ health and wellness.
You can find a Twigs Serenity Garden inside the Cancer Health and Wellness Center and the Twigs Healing Garden outside the Emergency Department.
Each year, Twigs members get together and decide which areas and/or programs Twigs would like to support. Whether you volunteer, donate items to the shop, or shop at Twigs-Thriftree, you will be making your own generous contribution to NWH.
Jo Cherubini, at 83 years old and a 50-year Mt. Kisco resident, is a vibrant, tireless volunteer in the Westchester community. In addition to being a 20-year volunteer at NWH, Jo volunteers twice a week at the Rosary Hill Home, an end-of-life facility based in Hawthorne. She is also involved with the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry.
At NWH, you can usually find her on Wednesdays at the front desk of the Wallace Pavilion, but she also takes on other roles. “I feel a volunteer should go where they are needed,” says Jo. Whether it’s helping with blood drives, stuffing envelopes, delivering greeting cards to patients, or making sure wheelchairs are accessible at the front entrance–Jo is on it. Working at the front desk is not without its challenges. “Typically when people walk into the hospital, it’s not on the best of circumstances…unless they’re visiting the maternity ward,” says Jo. “They need to be received and guided with patience,” she adds.
Jo is the recipient of the 2017 Mary B. Robbins Beacon of Light Award which is given by NWH to the volunteer of the year. In lieu of the personal gifts she would have received from NWH, Jo asked if it could be in the form of a monetary donation to be split up between two of her charities—Rosary Hill Home and the Mount Kisco Food Pantry.
“I love this hospital and its mission to provide quality care to the community,” says Jo. “The people who work here are open and receptive. It’s a family atmosphere and that makes for a pleasant experience,” she adds.
In addition to all of her volunteer activities, Jo finds the time to knit and crochet blankets for children with cancer. She’s made over 1,000 blankets so far. Jo has also made hundreds of hats for infants that have been born at NWH.
If you would like to donate some yarn for her projects, please feel free to leave it at the front desk of the Wallace Pavilion. She would greatly appreciate it.
Idelle Skriloff volunteers at the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center (KHCC) located in the Wallace Pavilion of the hospital. KHCC was founded by Armonk resident Marian Hamilton in loving memory of her husband, Ken Hamilton. Marian was the primary caregiver to her husband when he was sick. The experience was stressful and, at times, isolating. After her husband passed away, Marian founded the KHCC, the first in-hospital facility of its kind in the entire New York Metropolitan region. Named in memory of her husband and inspired by her experience caring for her husband through his illness, while juggling her role as a mother to two teenage daughters, gave her a firsthand understanding that hospitals are often not equipped to help caregivers in a meaningful way. With a vision to support family caregivers, Marian approached Northern Westchester Hospital. Since its inception, the KHCC has had over 60,000 family interactions, demonstrating the vast need for caregiver support.
For ten years, Idelle Skriloff has been one of over 30 volunteers at KHCC. “I wanted to do something meaningful to give back to the community,” she says. “At times, my husband and I have been patients at NWH, and we received such great care.” What makes Idelle well-suited for this particular type of volunteer work is her kind, compassionate spirit that comes along with being a retired special education teacher from Fox Lane. Idelle volunteers once a week seeking caregivers on the floor to engage in conversation and offer appropriate support as needed. “We let them know we are there for them if they have any questions or need information, and we invite them to the center to relax and unwind,” says Idelle. “Sometimes caregivers just need emotional support. Sometimes they need information and resources.”
KHCC’s volunteer training is intensive. Trainees will shadow a seasoned volunteer for three to six months and are also expected to make a long-term commitment to the center.
KHCC has extended their services with a ‘Stay in Touch’ program where volunteers reach out to caregivers after discharge via telephone. Idelle describes her volunteer experience as uniquely rewarding: “I am so grateful to have a hospital like NWH in our community. Volunteering gives me so much more than I give.”
Joanna Cirasella, Briarcliff resident and a massage therapist at the Chappaqua Wellness Center, volunteers her time at NWH twice a week. She and her 10-year-old pet therapy Norfolk terrier, Mandy, make their rounds at the hospital. For Joanna, her mission is personal. She is a 5-year breast cancer survivor. Joanna wanted to give back to the hospital that took great care of her. “They’re like family to me,” says Joanna. Mandy and Joanna typically visit the Cancer Center, the Breast Institute, and the Women’s Imaging Center. They also make visits to the oncology inpatient units. “Mandy opens the door. Once you say to a patient ‘I sat in that same chair,’ a whole other dialogue happens.”
For her service, Joanna received the prestigious International Pet Therapy Team Planetree Award. In addition to visiting patients, Joanna is on the Cancer Patient Advisory Council, designed to be the voice of the patient by providing ongoing insight into actual patient and family experiences.
Joanna is also involved with NWH’s Living with Cancer Support Group. She’s held fundraising events at Le Jardin du Roi with proceeds going to the NWH Cancer Health & Wellness Program. Joanna is also an accomplished photographer. You can also find several of her photographs hanging in the Cancer Center.
Sophie Peterfreund, a Bedford Hills resident, has been volunteering in the Emergency Department at NWH for six years and was a member of the NWH President’s Junior Leadership Council during her sophomore, junior and senior years at Fox Lane. The President’s Junior Leadership Council is made up of high school students in Northern Westchester. PJLC members develop projects that are meaningful to them about health issues affecting their peers.
Whenever she is home, you can find her in the Emergency Department helping out at the security desk at NWH helping out at the security desk and checking in patients. She is passionate about the hospital and loves tapping into its spirit and energy. The fast-paced atmosphere of urgent care is well-suited to her particular skill set. “It may sound strange, but ever since I was young, I loved going to the doctor,” says Sophie.
Sophie is a junior at Stony Brook University and hopes to attend physician’s assistant school after she graduates. Sophie is also an EMT in her town.
If you’re interested in volunteering at NWH, please contact Ellen Muentener, Director, Volunteer Services email@example.com.