Volunteers find rewards at Mayo

John Schons, Michelle Zierke and Dolores Gronewald are pictured. They are three of the approximately 100 people who volunteer time at Mayo Clinic Health System-Fairmont.

Retiring from a long and successful career can bring satisfaction. It’s time to relax and take life easy. However, many seniors find themselves still wanting to stay busy. One activity many turn to is volunteering.

Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont has an extensive volunteer program. What was once the auxiliary transitioned into volunteer services in 2016. It’s essentially the same program, just under a different name. The volunteer coordinator, Elizabeth Sathoff, said there are about 100 volunteers who help with a variety of tasks and work a range of hours.

Three of the many volunteers are Michelle Zierke, who has been helping with hospice for about two years; John Schons, who has been volunteering since last October; and Dolores Gronewald, who has been around campus for nearly 20 years.

“We have a lot of different opportunities for volunteers,” Sathoff noted.

She went on to explain that one of the popular opportunities is called STEP force.

“They move anything from point A to point B, whether it’s a person in a wheelchair, supplies from department to department, papers, pharmaceutical supplies. Anything from point A to point B, so they’re always running around. It’s something different ever day,” Sathoff said.

She said many volunteers, especially senior citizens, enjoy STEP force because it keeps them active.

“We have a lot of other positions too that aren’t as physically demanding, where people can assist too,” said Sathoff, listing the information desk and gift shop.

While Sathoff oversees the gift shop, it is managed and staffed by volunteers.

“All of the proceeds from the gift shop are kept within the organization in Fairmont and go toward projects or departments in need,” she said. “Recently, we had a completion of one of our projects on campus which was a huge wheelchair project where we went through all of the wheelchairs, which is about 60, and did replacements and repairs. That entire project was funded by the gift shop proceeds.”

There is also a coffee cart that goes around the clinic in the morning, with volunteers providing the service.

Another option for volunteers has only been around for a few years but it is popular and impactful. Hospice volunteers visit people in their homes to provide support to patients and family members.

“Our hospice volunteers strictly go out in the community, not just in Fairmont, but in the surrounding towns as well,” Sathoff explained.

“You get a patient/client/person and you get paperwork and find out about them and you go visit with them and help however you can,” said Zierke, who is a hospice volunteer.

Zierke said people in hospice will often talk to a volunteer about things they might not talk about to a family member, so a big part of her job is just listening and offering support.

Zierke said that before her husband died, there were hospice volunteers with her to offer support and that’s why she wants to provide to others.

It is common to have people start volunteering after they have been touched by volunteers themselves, because they want to be able to give back.

“You can touch so many lives in a positive way by just helping. It’s a real opportunity to give back,” Gronewald said.

“Giving back is good but I’m a bit selfish too because it’s great exercise,” Schons said of why he likes volunteering.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” Zierke said. “We moved here and I didn’t work so someone told me to come see Elizabeth because there was a need here. It has been my purpose since I retired. This is way more valuable than work.”

Sathoff said the flexibility that comes with volunteering is great because some people are busier in the summer and others leave for the winter or still work part time.

“Everyone’s different,” she explained. “We definitely have those people that volunteer every week but some are once a month and some are just on call.”

Though many seniors volunteer, it is not just retired people who serve. There are students and people of all ages, male and female, who volunteer.

“I think that’s what Fairmont’s all about,” Sathoff said. “It’s community-driven and everybody really cares for other people and that’s what you want in your community. For those that are able to give back, what a great thing.”

Zierke said she also found that volunteering is a great way to get to know people. After she moved to town and started volunteering, she was able to meet many people and form relationships.

“We’re always trying to get our volunteers involved with our community events where we’re promoting health and wellness in the community,” Sathoff said.

Volunteers on campus wear a simple uniform while hospice volunteers dress casually but follow a set of guidelines. All volunteers wear an ID badge and go through orientation, as well as have a background check done.

“It’s something to get up for,” Zierke said. “I remember my dad said you always need to have something that makes you want to get up. And this does. It gives you that purpose to help and do something.”

“There’s always a need for volunteers,” Sathoff noted. “We want to be able to have enough people to fill in for when others are gone. We could always use more volunteers. Anyone who’s interested in volunteering can just call me directly at (507) 238-8178.”