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Help Wanted: Heart—Not Experience—Required

As Pandemic Recedes, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Marina Del Rey Hospital Look for New Volunteers

As the COVID-19 pandemic eases, many people are going back: back to work, back to school, back to normal lives.

But one group that hasn’t gone back is the volunteers. Across the U.S., volunteer activity remains low, even as charitable giving has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

“At Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, we have an urgent need for more volunteers,” said Michele Prince, director of Volunteer Services. “It’s aMichele Prince great way to give back to your community and enhance your skills. And there are so many ways to volunteer. No matter your interests, skill set or experience level, there is a volunteer role for you.”

Volunteers play a critical role at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital. They visit with patients, feed patients and help with tasks that free nurses and other caregivers to concentrate on patient care. But at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the medical center’s volunteer programs went dark.

During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteer ranks thinned out at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center because only volunteers who were also employees were allowed in the hospital. Although that restriction has been lifted, many of the volunteers who weren’t allowed to serve during that time have not returned to the program. At Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital, many former volunteers retired during the almost-three-year pandemic.

“We are looking for people who want to enhance their lives and add to their level of experience,” Prince said. “Our volunteers find that they learn more from patients and I get back 10 times what they give.”

Rica Castroll agrees. Castroll is a Cedars-Sinai employee—a program administrator with Cedars-Sinai Cancer who doesn’t interact with patients in her day-to-day work. But one lunch break every week, Castroll dons the blue jacket of a Cedars-Sinai volunteer and feeds patients who are unable to feed themselves.

“For an hour and 15 minutes, I get to step into a stranger’s room and walk into their world and focus on something outside myself,” she said. “I don’t know who gets more out of this—them or me.”

Castroll said she joined the program to give back to her community and to form a deeper connection with her work.

“My work is all numbers-based,” Castroll said. “It's all just like, names—people who I would never meet or see. But when you feed somebody, it's a very intimate thing and you remember that each one of these numbers is a person: a sister, a daughter, a mom, a grandpa. It helps put life in perspective for me.”

Volunteers can sign up to help with a variety of programs, from simply providing companionship and a helping hand to patients, to playing music for patients and visitors, to helping people find their way around the medical center. There’s even an opportunity for four-legged friends who want to lend a helping paw—well-behaved dogs and their people can join Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Pets Offering Ongoing Care and Healing (POOCH) Program to provide comfort and support to patients, staff and visitors.

Volunteers who are pursuing healthcare training can sign up to do more specialized work, like assisting in the Emergency Department, helping with patient arrivals or managing the Cedars-Sinai medical library.

“The core work is really providing emotional support and compassion to the patients and our visitors and also an extra set of hands to staff,” Prince said.

Successful applicants must complete online orientation, a background check and a health evaluation. Would-be volunteers can apply online on the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center website or Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital website.

Once approved, volunteers are provided with training and opportunities to shadow more-experienced volunteers before working on their own. For Castroll, that training made all the difference.

“I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable with feeding patients in the beginning, but my supervisor provided really extensive training, and now I like it very much,” she said. “You realize that we are all very vulnerable, and we could all end up here, as a patient—perhaps lonely and needing a change from the regular staff, especially if your family might be far away or working. That is why it’s important for me to give back to the community.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Michele Prince, Volunteer Services