We sat down with Debby Crull and Carolyn Jennings to learn about gift shop volunteers at KVH Hospital. Both women have an employment history that includes working at west-side grocery chains. One of them was a jail cook. One was encouraged to work here by her son and daughter-in-law, who are both KVH employees. One worked in the hospital kitchen, and now also volunteers with Hospice Friends. You can find out who did what by engaging them in conversation at – where else? – the KVH gift shop. (Photo, L to R: Carolyn and Debby, and their trademark smiles.)
Ladies, you have something besides Safeway in common: clearly, you like to stay busy.
BOTH: Oh yes, definitely.
Tell me about the work that you’re doing in the gift shop.
DEBBY: We wait on customers. We receive order shipments, pre-price them and put them out for sale. We work with the manager [Jonna Hiner]. And wait on the public, and the employees that shop at the gift shop.
Do you work different hours when there’s a special sale happening?
DEBBY: We had a Pajama Party night. That was exciting.
CAROLYN: And then we’ve got a Garden Party coming up on May 4th. We’ll be serving tea and shortbread.
Have either of you volunteered in other areas besides the gift shop?
DEBBY: I stock the patient care kitchens and department kitchens on Wednesday afternoons. And I’ve been doing that for almost 12 years. I saw it in the paper, you know, about volunteering here. And then I knew somebody that volunteered here out on the desk.
Is there anything that you feel people misunderstand about what it’s like to be a volunteer?
CAROLYN: Well, I know I didn’t understand what a volunteer was until I started. While I’ve been here, I’ve watched the courtesy desk folks across the hall from us. They take care of patients really well, and make sure they get whatever help they need. They’re always polite and nice. But I just wanted to learn how to make coffee! (Laughs)
DEBBY: When I retired from the kitchen, I really wanted to go into the gift shop and then do the coffee, also.
What are the challenges of being a volunteer?
DEBBY: If you’re brand new, it can be confusing to learn everything, especially the register.
CAROLYN: Yeah. I’d say about the same thing. I don’t have a computer at home. So learning the automated sales system was challenging. That’s why I went to two days a week, to get more experience. The more I do it, the easier it becomes. Jonna is really helpful to us, and so is Debby, if I have any problems or anything like that. That was one of my concerns and one of my fears, but everyone has been great. You never once made me feel inadequate or incompetent or anything.
CAROLYN: Used to be, I was in the coffee shop and I’d wait on customers when they came. But in the gift shop, I can answer questions. I can help. There’s been some days we talk with customers and they wind up buying out the store. That’s fun.
DEBBY: It’s fun to communicate with them and they come in with stories for us.
CAROLYN: Usually everybody’s real happy to be shopping. That helps.
DEBBY: It’s good to be around people.
CAROLYN: You get all kinds of people shopping here. Some are happy, some aren’t. Some are having troubles, and, you know, we got that thing (HIPAA) where we can’t ask them any questions. Some of them come in, you know, their hearts are broken, they’re hurting. And so you have to judge carefully, so that you don’t ask inappropriate questions, but at the same time you give them the encouragement and the help that they need.
That’s one of the things that makes what you’re doing different than if you were doing it somewhere else. Having it in a healthcare environment, where all these things are going on.
CAROLYN: I think it’s more personal with healthcare. When I worked behind the Safeway counter and dealt with people, you just said “Hi, how are you doing?,” and asked them what they needed, and then they left and went their way. But here, you get more interaction.
CAROLYN: I think the gift shop is very important to the hospital. It gives an opportunity for people to relax, and have that emotional safety. Many times for the folks who come in, there are really serious problems with their families and whatnot. So this way they get a chance to be in this space and focus their minds on something else for a while, if they want to.
Thank you for sharing that because I’ve never heard that before. And that’s a big deal.
What are the rewards of working where you do?
CAROLYN: Oh, we have too much fun. Too much fun. I mean we enjoy the people, we enjoy each other. And working with Karen Schock is great, too. I’ve been with her for 10 years.
DEBBY: It’s a fun little job –
CAROLYN: – and you go home, relax –
DEBBY: – you’re not stressed out…
I think I’m gonna come volunteer in the gift shop. (Laughter)
So, what does it take to survive a day in the gift shop?
CAROLYN: Well, just enjoy what you’re doing.
DEBBY: You have to be outgoing and friendly and you have to enjoy people.
CAROLYN: And you have to not be afraid to ask them questions.
DEBBY: “Are you looking for anything special?”
CAROLYN: Some days I do really good at that and other days I forget.
As a team, what qualities do you all possess?
CAROLYN: Well, for one thing, we’re patient with one another. I mean, there’s times I get real nervous with the cash register and they’re always kind, and suggest, “Well, let’s do this, and let’s try this.”
So you show each other some grace when you’re struggling.
CAROLYN: Yeah. I guess that’s the word. Grace, and we giggle together a lot. We just have fun. It’s definitely teamwork. We don’t get nervous with each other, we don’t get upset –
DEBBY: We thank each other for everything.
You’re like your own little family.
DEBBY: Yeah. We have our own little family. And by the way, we need more family members. We still have some days that need four-hour volunteers.
Okay. I’ll make sure to include that.