Hospital hospitality " VVMC Volunteer Corps |

Hospital hospitality " VVMC Volunteer Corps

Carolyn Pope
Jim NielsenMagda Vossler, former president of the Volunteer Corps, and one of three who started the hospitality cart in 2001.

Visitors to the Vail Valley Medical Center find a kinder, gentler place thanks to the help of a dedicated group of people, the Vail Valley Medical Center Volunteer Corps.

Founded in 1979 with a group of 13 people, the corps has grown to over 200 women and men who find purpose and peace in helping those in need. They volunteer around 15,000 hours per year in the hospital and its branches.

The primary job of the volunteers is to man the information desks at the medical center and the Shaw Cancer Center, stock and sell items at the hospital gift shop, take the Hospitality (cookie) Cart to the patients and to help out in the different emergency rooms. That, however, is just what’s in the job description. What they do is so much more.

“They play a big role,” said Marti Waneka, a new member of the corps. “Volunteers, of course, aren’t paid. They are the liaison between the community and the hospital. They don’t make the hospital feel so cold. When people come in, the volunteers greet them, help them if they’re on crutches, show them to the doctor’s offices, give them water. When we bring around our hospitality cart, we interact with the patients.”

The hospitality cart began in 2001 by Magda Vossler and Gilda and Werner Kaplan. Back then, it was the “cookie cart” and it was a hands-on way to make contact with patients in the hospital. Once a week, volunteers take cookies, fresh lemonade and hot coffee and tea to the patient care unit. They offer conversation, care and friendliness along with the cookies. Sometimes patients want to chat because they are lonely, don’t have family members in the area and endure long hours in the hospital.

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“I think they bring a connection to the community,” said Ed O’Brien, who served as interim CEO of the medical center and is currently president of the Medical Center Foundation and on the Board of Directors of the hospital. “Our community is a contrast between large and small. The volunteers are all local people, maybe part time, but they’re local. They bring in that connection that offsets the bigness of the hospital.”

Not only does the group spread the warm and fuzzies, they make a large financial impact on the hospital. Over the years, the group has raised more than $1 million. For many years, they have hosted a fashion show and luncheon (the last several with Neiman Marcus) which has raised as much as $100,000. The fashion show started off decades ago as a very small venture where locals modeled upscale resale items. The staff of the hospital informs the group where the money is needed most, and the board makes a decision of where it will be allocated.

This past year, they gave $65,000 to help purchase an O-Arm Imaging System.

“It’s a ‘real time’ 3-D X-ray, used primarily with spinal surgery,” explained Ed O’Brien. “It allows a spinal surgeon to verify with precise accuracy, both the target and placement of screws that are used in spinal surgery. It definitely cuts down on nerve disturbance.”

VVMC was the eighth hospital in the country to acquire one; now there are around 100 nationwide. The donation from the volunteer corps contributed a significant portion toward the purchase.

“Many physicians from around the world come in to observe its use by Dr. Corenman,” he added. “Last week, there were two physicians from Korea observing him using the machine.”

Dick Woodrow, a retired chief operating officer of a high-tech company in Silicon Valley, Calif., serves as president of the group.

“My wife and I moved here four years ago having retired from California. We saw an ad in the Vail Daily about the Volunteer Corps, so we signed up. When I signed up, I asked where the most help was needed, so I’ve been working the gift shop. I feel like I’m giving back to my community. I like meeting the patients; it makes me feel worthwhile.”

Woodrow is on a mission to fill all the volunteer slots at the hospital and make sure the information desk is manned to its capacity. That means more volunteers and more hours.

“Because the volunteers aren’t paid to get something done by a certain time, they have the time to be more compassionate to visitors, families and patients. Even in the gift shop, people will come in and unload their woes as to what just happened to them, their husband, and their children. It’s a real opportunity to fill a physical need in manning functions, but also an opportunity to have the time and the caring to show the compassion that we all would like when we’re in a place like a hospital.”

“We make a huge difference for the hospital staff and the patients. It’s very rewarding,” Waneka said. “I always feel good after what I’ve done for the VVMC.”

If you would like to join the Vail Valley Medical Center Volunteer corps, contact Amanda Visosky at 970-479-5068 or

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