Compelled to help
Longtime Enloe volunteer reflects on her deep-seated motivation
One day about two years ago, a particularly ill woman entered the emergency room at Enloe Medical Center. Admission staff determined she did not require immediate attention, though they had no initial diagnosis. The woman waited.
She was disoriented. Unexpected hospital trips always breed some uncertainty, but this exceeded the norm. Something was contributing to her confusion.
Ronnie Campbell noticed. She was in the midst of a four-hour shift with the Enloe Volunteers as she walked through the waiting room. Not a caregiver herself, but one of many caring people who donate their time to aid patients, Campbell became the woman’s companion.
While the woman waited, Campbell waited. When the woman wanted her company in the exam room, Campbell agreed—then remained through a battery of tests.
Campbell spent six hours with the patient, which Enloe volunteer coordinator Amy Alvarez calls “so far above and beyond” the call of duty.
That’s not all. The patient was admitted to the hospital—doctors later determined she’d had a stroke—and Campbell stopped by her room regularly. She offered encouragement. She brought pajamas. She made sure the woman got food she could keep down despite feeling nauseated by medication. Then, after the woman went home, Campbell helped coordinate doctors appointments, physical therapy, transportation and more.
“It’s just amazing that she [Campbell] was able to do that for her,” Alvarez said. “She just went so far out of her way to make sure this patient was well on her way to healing.”
This is merely one story from Campbell’s 16 years of volunteerism at Enloe, and it goes a long way toward explaining why she recently received national recognition from Points of Light, the largest organization recognizing public service. Roseanna Galindo-Kuhn, director of Enloe Volunteer Services, nominated her for the Daily Point of Light Award. Campbell learned of the nomination and May 19 honor simultaneously.
The story also goes a long way toward explaining why Campbell has volunteered for 16 years, though it took the occasion of the award and some reflection for her to have that epiphany.
Veronica Campbell (Ronnie is her childhood nickname) moved to Chico in 1999. She and her husband, Colin—South Africans who’d immigrated together 20 years earlier—had retired from garment and signage businesses they’d owned in Southern California. She joined the Newcomers Club of Chico; there, a lunch presentation on the Enloe Volunteers inspired her.
“In South Africa, you don’t volunteer; it’s just not something you do,” she explained. “So I’d never heard of hospital volunteering, so when [the volunteer there] introduced me to it, it was like, ‘Wow, this is what I’ve got to do.’”
She has no medical training. None of her relatives have a health care background. Why the pull?
Campbell’s first thought: “Maybe because I’d lost all my family.” Her parents and brother had passed away in South Africa, she elaborated, “and I thought it would be wonderful if I could be here to assist families.”
Going deeper along that line, she continued: “It appealed to me with the ability to help people. It sounds kind of corny. But, having a deaf brother, I was always part of him [thriving]—I always spoke for him. … So maybe in there, there was something that developed.”
Indeed, Alvarez said, Campbell advocates for patients and family members. She doesn’t just offer directions from the lobby desk, or push a wheelchair, or visit someone who’s sick. She makes sure people get where they’re going and get the services they need, no matter what it takes. Alvarez attributes that dedication to empathy and initiative. But she couldn’t put her finger on why Campbell’s dedication persists.
At 66, Campbell continues to volunteer at least three half-days every other week and, along with serving as president of the Enloe Volunteer Services board, is one of the program’s most active recruiters. She jokes that friends steer clear, fearing a sales pitch.
So, again, why? Musing further, Campbell discovered a deep-seated motivation.
She entered Enloe Volunteers afraid of hospitals. “Very much so,” she said. “I hadn’t been a very healthy kid … I’d forgotten all about that.”
Campbell contracted rheumatic fever twice, at 9 and 11 years old. The second case was so serious that she required hospitalization in Johannesburg, 100 miles from where her father worked as a gold mine engineer.
“I was flat on my back in the dark; I could not move for about a month,” she recalled. “And it certainly wasn’t Enloe … and I didn’t have a nice nurse; it was sort of like Nurse Ratched [from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest].”
Both parents had a hard time visiting, though her mother could come more frequently because she worked in Johannesburg. So, Campbell spent a lot of time alone.
The connection between her hospital experience and her zeal to offer others the opposite—such as the disoriented woman in the emergency room—suddenly came into focus through tear-filled eyes.
Campbell appreciates the Daily Point of Life Award, calling it “something I will hold in my heart till the end of days.” She’s quick to acknowledge the cadre of other volunteers, as well as staff who accord them respect and gratitude.
Along with her position on the Enloe Volunteers board, Campbell is president of the Mount Shasta Area Council, which represents hospital volunteer programs in California’s 10 northeastern counties.
It’s on that larger scale she hopes the spotlight from her recognition will educate the public on “what volunteering can be and promote volunteering—anywhere.”
She continued: “It’s far better than any paid job because the feeling inside you, people being grateful for what you do, is just enormous. I’ve had fun in our businesses; there was a great reward for what we produced and got paid for, but there’s nothing in the reward to compare with when you’re a volunteer.”