This week is National Volunteer Week, and Comanche County Memorial Hospital is celebrating its more than 120 volunteers between the ages of 23 and 96. Some volunteers are seen at the hospital, while others work behind the scenes, like Earline Gregory, who works with a group to make “Heart Bears” for patients who have to undergo open-heart surgeries.
“They put them right on that incision, and when they have to cough, that helps,” she said.
Gregory said she started volunteering 25 years ago when a church group out of Cache began making them.
“And it just grew and grew and grew until we had to take them home,” Gregory said. “We were getting together once a week that didn’t work. We had to have more bears than that, and it’s just continued to grow.”
Gregory said it takes about three hours to make each bear. But that doesn’t matter because it’s all a labor of love.
“Those who don’t have sewing machines, some sew and others stuff,” she said. “So we pass them, they’re traveling bears they go to about three different houses before they come back to y’all.”
One of the unique things about the bears is their hand-painted faces.
“Dave gets a lot of the credit because he does the painting of the faces.”
She believes they can provide smiles no matter how much someone is hurting. It makes them feel good to complete another bear…even if they’ve already made thousands over the years.
“It’s fun,” Gregory said. “It’s always fun to get to the end to where you get to tie the ribbon around his neck, and he’s finished.”
While their volunteer work is done outside the hospital, there are a lot of volunteers inside like those working the front desk, driving patients to the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma for their treatment, delivering medicine so nurses don’t have to leave their floors and even four-legged friends who go around to help lift everybody’s spirits.
Emily Hale is another volunteer. This past year at the hospital has helped her work through some of the challenges she faces due to autism.
“When I first started, I kinda had to feel the place out because I was a little nervous,” Hale said.
But that’s no longer the case.
“Right away, people just started kinda helping me out,” she said. “And I just kinda felt like ‘maybe I do belong here.’”
Hale runs medicine for the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma and helps bag prescriptions at the Great Plains Pharmacy inside CCMH.
“I feel like my nerves have really gone down,” Hale said. “And I feel like the more I hang around the staff here, I feel like I can really be myself.”
This three-day-a-week volunteer says she was inspired after watching a Medwatch about another volunteer.
“And that just kinda set a fire in me,” she said. “It just really convinced me that if ‘hey, if he can do it, why can’t I’?”
She encourages others to do the same.
“If you don’t think that being a volunteer can be rewarding, it can be,” Hale said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re two-legged or four-legged, just being there from somebody can really make their day better.”
CCMH is also starting up their volunteen program again this summer. You need to be 14 or older to participate. If you’d like more information on becoming a volunteer or volunteen, contact Michelle Callihan at 580-250-5254.