Phyllis Sylvester, Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s (YRMC’s) West Campus Volunteer of the Year for 2019, was on hiatus from her usual duties as the chair of the YRMC Mail Department at the Prescott Campus. The COVID-19 pandemic had caused a temporary closure of Volunteer Services.

One morning, Sylvester received a phone call from Nancy Thomes, Director of Volunteer Services at YRMC. Thomes said that she and Chamine David, Volunteer Services Manager, were going to swing by Sylvester’s home, just to say hello.

“Well, they parked and got out of their car. Nancy did a little jig in the driveway and then announced my wonderful award,” says Sylvester. “What a surprise and honor.”

“We borrowed an idea from the Publishers Clearing House and surprised each award winner at their home,” says Thomes. “This was accomplished prior to the ‘stay at home’ order and we maintained the appropriate social distancing.”

The Jig

The jig is a tradition at the annual Volunteer Recognition Event at YRMC. Each year, amid a joyous atmosphere, lunch, smiles and laughter, YRMC staff performs a ‘jig’ to show their appreciation for their volunteers. While the underlying intention is genuine, the staff doesn’t always perfectly master each dance step. This has become a source of much laughter and good-natured teasing at the event over the years.

This year, in lieu of the in-person celebration, the staff gathered on what would have been the luncheon date to pose with their dance props. Thomes sent the photo, along with an explanation and word of thanks to the volunteers.

“For those of you who have attended these events in the past, you will know what I mean when I say that all of our staff gathered to do a little ‘jig’ for you – it was our way of virtually performing the entertainment portion of the event. AND, you need to know that we didn’t make ANY mistakes (just trust us on this)!!!!”

Passion and Commitment

Physical distancing may have been in place, but the love and appreciation for YRMC volunteers was not diminished, perhaps this year more than ever. The volunteers’ absence during the pandemic restrictions was certainly noticed among YRMC staff.

“I couldn’t believe the comments from our staff about how different YRMC looked without our volunteers,” Thomes notes, “We certainly missed them.”

Mark Timm, Executive Director of Human Resources at YRMC, agrees. “While we always appreciate our volunteers’ contributions, we had a heightened awareness of all they do for us, especially when we didn’t have the luxury of more than 50 volunteers a day performing their many roles throughout YRMC.”

In fact, it is often said that YRMC would not be able to continue its day-to-day operations if it wasn’t for their many volunteers. Last year, 712 volunteers logged 104,700 hours of volunteer time, which translates to $2,205,532. This is the equivalent of 46 full-time employees.

“The passion and commitment our volunteers bring to YRMC is inspiring. And we all have the same goal – to provide a positive experience to everyone we meet here,” Thomes explains. “Our volunteers come from such diverse and interesting backgrounds and career paths. We all learn so much from them.”

Three standout volunteers were honored this year.

2019 West Campus Volunteer of the Year – Phyllis Sylvester

Sylvester started her volunteer service with YRMC over 18 years ago and has given more than 2,800 hours of service, including in the Emergency Department. She currently delivers the mail and is the chair of the Mail Department. A very hands-on leader, she will cover a shift if someone can’t come in, provides extensive training, and is diligent about keeping her group aware of personnel and departmental changes.

Some of the accolades from her nominations include:

  • Phyllis is always friendly, willing to take on new things when needed and consistently performs ‘over and above’.
  • She has a great demeanor, is approachable and very fun. All of her partners have enjoyed working with her.
  • Every which way you turn, Phyllis is greeting someone and offering to help.

Sylvester has found volunteering to be a worthwhile way to support her community, particularly at YRMC. For her, giving back to the hospital and the sense of belonging it offers are the main reasons she dedicates her time and talent.

“YRMC is a great place to volunteer. The staff and other volunteers are very friendly and make you feel like you belong. We work together as a team and we’re always ready to assist,” says Sylvester. “I feel very honored and special to be selected among all of the other volunteers.”

2019 East Campus Volunteer of the Year – Sandy Hanratty

Hanratty has been an Escort for YRMC East since June 2014 and has contributed more than 1,200 hours. If she sees someone heading into the hospital that looks like they might need a wheelchair, she greets them with a chair before they even reach the door. Hanratty often helps out at the Registration Desk as well. It is said she always has a smile and kind words for everyone she comes across.

Her nominations include the following praises:

  • Sandy has a wonderful attitude and is very professional.
  • She is very friendly and always ready to help the patients, visitors and her fellow volunteers.
  • Sandy is the kindest, happiest person and it is a pleasure to work with her.

“I can’t think of a finer thing to do with my time that volunteering. It gives me so much more joy than I give,” Hanratty says. “Volunteering gives my life worth. It’s a total pleasure.”

Hanratty shares the credit. “I have to give credit to my Thursday afternoon group of volunteers. What a special group of people. There are five of us and we enjoy each other’s company and work so well together. You can’t do it alone.”

2019 Sandy Zinn-Martin Award – Diana Ashby

The Sandy Zinn-Martin Award was created to honor the memory of a long-time YRMC volunteer and her spirit of generosity. It is given each year to a volunteer who embodies the ‘above and beyond’ attitude that Sandy exemplified.

Ashby, this year’s honoree, gives her ‘all’ in service not only to YRMC, but to her fellow volunteers as well. An Escort at YRMC East since January 2017, she is always doing special things for her fellow volunteers, just like the award’s namesake, Sandy Zinn-Martin.

Some of the comments from Ashby’s nominations include:

  • Diana makes sure her fellow volunteers have rides to appointments.
  • She purchases cards for fellow volunteers when they are ill and passes them around for other volunteers to sign.
  • On birthdays, Diana passes a card around for the volunteers to sign and brings homemade goodies to share.

In light of all she gives, Ashby reflects on what she receives in return.

“What I get back is enjoyment, fulfillment and personal growth,” says Ashby. “I enjoy interacting with the visitors, patients, and employees that I come in contact with. It’s quite a feeling to know that you have the means to make a day brighter for someone who is unhappy, in pain, or simply angry, by giving them a smile or just listening to them. It’s pretty powerful.”

A Positive Difference

John Amos, YRMC President and CEO, reflects on the hours of service and dedication given by YRMC volunteers.

“Thinking about time being an unrenewable resource… the time our volunteers gave in 2019 is significant and was often given for altruistic reasons,” Amos states. “It is our hope that our volunteers felt that significance and sensed how they made a positive difference.”

Hanratty’s first day back after the COVID restrictions was punctuated by an enthusiastic encounter that may exemplify the positive difference that Amos describes.

“I guess sometimes we just take things for granted,” she says. “The first day I went back, I walked past a nurse. She stopped, turned around, looked at my volunteer vest, then looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘We are SO glad to have you back!’”

“I should be giving the award, not getting it,” she continues. “I’m so humbled, surprised and honored. I wish I could give them a hug, but I’ll have to save that for later.”

And with any luck, the hug will be followed by an extra-joyful jig!

Visit YRMC.org to learn more about becoming a volunteer at Yavapai Regional Medical Center. Or, you can call Volunteer Services in Prescott at (928) 771-5678, or in Prescott Valley at (928) 442-8678.