Written by Karen Mahoney, Special to your Catholic Herald Wednesday, 19 May 2010 11:00
If volunteerism is a measure, then the 65 members of the St. Camillus Women’s Guild have made the nation a kinder and gentler place. Since 1956, the staff at St. Camillus Skilled Nursing, Assisted Living, and Retirement Living Home, Wauwatosa, has relied on the dedication of volunteers who donate time, energy and caring to make the lives better for St. Camillus residents.
They have logged more than 450,000 hours with twice-yearly fundraisers, games, holiday cookie deliveries, daily mail delivery, floral arrangements for new residents and by staffing the in-house thrift shop.
This year, the 172 guests of the guild’s 12th annual luncheon were treated to a fashion “Travelin’ Trunk Show” hosted by Goodwill Industries. The popular program was one of four offered by Goodwill, and served as a tribute to the wives of former United States presidents, explained Kathie Jensen, membership chairman and fundraiser coordinator.
“The show was really something,” she said. “We had to book it two years ahead of time. They started with Martha Washington and went all the way to Laura Bush. We had a combination fashion show and history lesson. It was wonderful.”
Funds raised from the annual luncheon go toward large items for the residents, such as a Wii system and games, wheel chairs, electric beds, Broda reclining chairs, pressure alternating mattresses and portable pulse oximeters.
“The most popular thing we do is to host bingo games for the residents three times a month, or four times when there are five Wednesdays in the month,” said Jensen. “They totally love the bingo and love the money we give out for prizes. Depending on the game, winners get 50 cents or a dollar if they win, and it is a lot of fun for everyone.”
Each November, the guild hosts a holiday boutique sale held at San Camillo. This yearly event is free and open to the public, and features craft items made by guild members, chance items, miscellaneous gift items, collectibles and homemade baked goods.
Whether it is a simple rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a resident celebrating his or her big day, a game, craft or light conversation, every effort is done with love and compassion.
“We try to recognize the residents and sing to them to keep their minds going, and to keep them active and physical; our efforts are a very important part of the campus,” said Jensen.
Members range in age from 55 to 98-year-old Gladyce Watry, the oldest active member and historian of the women’s guild.
“She has been a member since the beginning and has been the president for three terms and held a spot in all offices,” said Jensen.
Most volunteers give up one or two days per week to help where needed, and despite its designation as a women’s guild, some of the members are men.
“Yes, we do have some male members in our group,” admitted Jensen, adding, “And they round out our wonderful group of dedicated volunteers. We also have some members who live in the San de Camillo Independent Living residence – and that is really helpful for us, too, because they are so close by and are able to deliver mail and staff the resale shop.”
Each June, a check is presented to St. Camillus administrator Rick Johnson to purchase extra items for the residence. Additionally, new members who have volunteered 20 hours are invested into the guild and presented with aqua smocks with a red cross logo.
“Then to continue being an active member, volunteers agree to give 50 hours per year – we record those hours to continue to be recognized as a non-profit organization,” said Jensen. “We also have some patron members who will pay dues, but don’t need to turn in hours.”
While St. Camillus staff and residents benefit from the generosity of the volunteers, Jensen said that guild members receive much more in return.
“The smiles and hugs we receive are so rewarding,” she said. “We feel needed by being able to help others less fortunate and really enjoy making the residents feel important and loved.”