For this week's volunteer spotlight, we're turning to a volunteer who has already appeared twice before in our spotlights, but never as the sole featured volunteer. Given her dedicated service (Judy was one of thirteen volunteers to give more than 100 hours of service in 2017) we thought it was high time she got her own entry.
Judy is one of several volunteers who serve at the Old Town Clinic as a clinic concierge. The role was designed to help promote the clinic as a welcoming, inclusive place, where the first person you would encounter would be someone who is smiling and asking how you day is going. Judy exemplifies this role to a 'T.' In addition to the warmth she bringing to her conversations with people, where almost every sentence is punctuated with a smile and a laugh, Judy also brings experience into her interactions with patients at the clinic. Read on to see how volunteering helps her connect with her community and about the moments that have made the role particularly special for her.
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What is your name and volunteer position?
My name is Judy Sanders and I volunteer as a concierge at the Old Town Clinic.
How long have you been volunteering with CCC?
I’ve been here probably not quite a year-and-a-half yet. It was a year in the spring.
How did you find out about this opportunity and/or CCC?
Well, I knew about CCC because one of my sons was a client of CCC’s for a number of years. When I moved back to Portland after I retired for real—I retired once and went off and worked for ten more years—I wanted to do volunteer work. As you get older, you kind of start to question if you’re earning your place to still be around, so I needed something to do to make me feel like I had some function left in the world. So, I just called up and asked if you had volunteers.
Had you worked in a clinic before?
No, I had never done anything in health care before, but I had worked with people a lot. I did community development work for 20 years for the City of Portland, so I was used to working with all kinds of people. I was actually in charge of regulatory compliance, so I have come out and monitored CCC a couple of times over the years!
And your “other job” was in…?
Dinosaur paleontology. I did that for ten years while I still had a day job, then when I retired from the City my mentor said, “Come and work for me,” so then I worked in paleo full time for ten years.
“People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like 'thank you' for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week."
Do you find that those jobs inform your work as a concierge?
Well, I’ve worked with all kinds of people, and I did oversee some projects in the city serving people experiencing homelessness. But probably more than anything it was my son, because he was homeless for some time and he had alcohol and drug addiction. One of the things that I remember he used to say—that I utilize here—is that he would talk about how he just wanted to feel like a regular person. He hated that everywhere he went he was a patient or a client and he just sometimes wanted to feel like everybody else. So, when I talk to people at the clinic we talk about all sorts of things.
And some people do want to talk about [their medical stuff] and that’s fine, but I do try to find something to talk to people about other than the fact that they’re sick or injured.
Since you’ve been here for a while, do you find that patients are recognizing you when they come in?
Yeah, a lot of them that come in regularly know who I am and I know more or less who they are. I was talking to [an acupuncture client] today and he was saying that it made him feel good to have someone there to talk to and I said, “Yeah, it makes me feel good to see you guys.” I think it’s nice for people to see someone who is familiar; I think it makes them more comfortable. But I think for a lot of people it’s just having someone smile and say hi, notice them. And for me it’s great. People sometimes come up and thank me for being there, but for me it’s like thank you for letting me come because it’s some of the best fun I have all week.
Have there been any stand out moments in your time so far?
One was just a younger fellow who reminds me some of my son, and this fellow is in and out of sobriety, and when he was in sobriety last he was staying with his mother and she would come with him [to appointments]. While he was in his appointment, I just sat with his mother and talked to her and she told me what she was going through and I shared a little of what I went through with my son and kind of said, “It’s okay to feel this way. I did too.”
And so I think it helped her to have someone to talk about it with, because I know when I was going through that with my son, you just don’t feel comfortable talking to people who haven’t experienced it because you feel like they can’t understand and they tend to judge and tend to think you did something bad and weren’t a good mother. So, it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him.
“...it was nice to be able to be there for somebody else who needed to say what they had to say and not feel that someone was going to judge them or judge him."
There are also a couple people who are deaf that come and there’s one lady who’s really good at reading lips, but I decided, “I’m going to learn a little bit of sign language.” I just learned to say a few things and I was so proud of myself when she came in the first time and I signed to her and she perked up. And then there were two other ladies that came in later and they saw me talking to her and they came running over, because they were deaf as well, and said, “You sign?” And then they gave me some flashcards with the alphabet, because I always have trouble with some of the letters, so now those two ladies come in and we chat a little.
And what keeps you coming back to volunteer, now that you’ve done a year-and-a-half?
For me personally, one thing is just that I do need to be out and doing things, I need to feel like I’m still productive in life. But particularly now that I’ve been here a while and know some staff and a lot of the clients, I miss them if I don’t come. I wonder if they were there and if they were okay.
Usually my last question is what would you tell folks who were interested in volunteering, but since you host so many prospective volunteers who are shadowing the concierge role, I wonder if there’s something that you tell them about the role to win them over?
For one thing, I just tell people how much I enjoy it and just what a good time I have! I just find it really rewarding and if I have the chance to spend time with someone that you know really needed somebody to talk to, it just makes you feel good. I would always, with my son, hope that when he wasn’t around, there would be somebody that would be there to be nice to him. So, hopefully I’m doing that for other mothers who can’t do that for their kids.
Was there anything else you were hoping to tell us?
I think one of the things I like about having people come and shadow, particularly ones who haven’t really had much experience with [this population], is that I think it’s really important that as many people as possible get to be involved with all different parts of the community. The people that come to the clinic, they’re not any different than anybody else. They have the same issues and problems and I find, in life, that over the years people just live in their little box and you only meet people like you and it makes all the other people around in the world seem different. It’s not until you get to know people, and whether its people from other counties or life experiences, you just don’t understand that there is actually so little difference. So, I really like the fact that people are willing to come and try it out.