Volunteering for Aleta Opperman was a way to help her deal with depression after her husband died. Volunteering for Marjorie Folsche was her way of meeting people when she moved into the Sherman area.


Both women were honored along with more than 80 other volunteers at the Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center volunteer awards and new officer installation luncheon Wednesday at Austin College.


From May 1, 2016 until last week, the WNJ volunteers have logged 31,653 hours saving the hospital about $230,000.


“The volunteers are the heart of the hospital,” said Hospital Volunteer Coordinator Cheryl Brandon. “They are the greeters. Sometimes they are the first people that patients see when they come on our campus. Sometimes they are the last people that the patients see. Volunteers work in the front office. They work in the waiting rooms. They make great coffee. The popcorn is a very popular thing and the volunteers are responsible for that. They man the gift shop which is strictly run by volunteers which includes an extensive baby section.”


Combined, all the WNJ volunteers have 784 years of experience. They have logged 6,872,544 hours of service.


“Wilson N. Jones is able to hire more nurses and other staff that is paid because we have volunteers to do a lot of the hospitality services at the hospital,” Brandon said. “Because they are there of their own free will, it just shows that they are great people who want to help people.They are selfless people. They put others needs and time above their own.”


During the year, WNJ volunteers gave carnations to every woman who received a mammogram during the month of October, made donations to local charities, and bought trackers that will be placed on hospital wheelchairs in the main lobby. They will also awarded eight $1,500 scholarships to area seniors.


“These are for students who go into the health care field,” Brandon said. “So they are helping to grow the health care job market. The money that they raise comes from things sold at the gift shop, the popcorn sales and the other fundraisers that we host throughout the year.”


At the awards luncheon, the volunteers presented a check for $15,000 to the hospital to go towards various hospital items.


“It’s a good feeling to feel needed,” Opperman said. “I lost my husband five years ago and I was having a really hard time with it. He was 65 years old and we had been married for more than 40 years. I was dealing with depression and a lot of emotions.”


Opperman was at Wilson N. Jones to have her gall bladder removed when she got the idea to volunteer at the hospital.


“My sister took me to the appointment,” she said. “They got me prepped for the surgey when my surgery was delayed because they had an emergency appendectomy come in. As we were waiting, I said, ‘Jeanne, we should become volunteers.’ She went and got the paper work and as I was laying there, we filled it out.”


A few days later, the hospital volunteer services coordinator Cheryl Brandon called her.


“She asked me if I could be at orientation on Monday,” Opperman said. “Well I couldn’t, but I was in the orientation that began two weeks after that.”


Opperman has logged 2,500 volunteer hours with Wilson N. Jones since then.


“Volunteering gets you out of the house and away from the television set,” she said. “It makes you active again.”


Opperman has recruited eight people to volunteer in the last four years.


“A few of them have been friends of mine that have also had issues with depression,” she said. “They may have been down about where they were in life, about getting older. They felt like they were not of any service or use to anyone. So I said that they need to come join us. If nothing else, there is a camaraderie amongst us. We enjoy being with each other.”


Folsche likes the camaraderie so much that she has logged 6,000 hours at the hospital.


“I like having the opportunity to meet people,” she said. “One of the ways you can do that is smiling at people. People do not want to come to the hospital so making their time there a little easier is great.”


Folsche was the 2015-2016 volunteer auxiliary president.


“I lost my husband last year,” she said. “I did not want to become president, but I said yes and I have really enjoyed it. If everyone in this auxiliary had not come forward and done what we had asked them to do then, and been there when I couldn’t be there then we would not have made it. This is the most fantastic group of people you will ever meet. I do not have family here, so these people are like family to me. I can call on them if I need anything. They may be even better than family.”


Volunteering is important, Folsche said, because it allows you to feel like you are giving back to the community.


“It also allows you to one-on-one help people that may be having a bad day,” she said. “All you had to do was smile and say, ‘What can I do to help you?’”


Many times, her volunteer schedule has made Folsche leave the house even when she did not want to.


“If you have an obligation to go do something or be somewhere, you are likely to get up and go do it,” she said. “Smiling at someone makes your sorrow easier to deal with.”