A day in the life of a UTMB volunteer

Aug 18, 2017, 05:55 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
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If you’re an employee or patient who frequents UTMB’s League City Campus, chances are you’ve met Jessica Norris.

For the past year, she’s donated her time and energy to pushing a beverage cart around all League City Campus clinics—making sure no patient, family member or employee is overlooked. Her reason for putting in nearly 600 volunteer hours over the past year is plain and simple.

“My favorite thing to do is help people,” she says as we meet on a Tuesday morning.

I’m excited to finally meet Norris in person, as I had been contacted by several employees and patients who said she has a special way of brightening every room she walks into. I immediately understand what they mean as I spot Norris walking through the front door of the LCC clinics—she has a genuine smile and gracious demeanor. Numerous employees smile, wave and call out, “Good morning, Jessica!”

Norris greets me with a warm welcome and we walk to a breakroom where she starts her day preparing a beverage cart of water, coffee and lemonade. As she fills a drink dispenser, she explains how her mother’s work as a pediatric nurse at UTMB inspired her to start volunteering last August.

Jessica030“I went to work with my mom one day at the Pediatric Specialty Center at Bay Colony and liked helping her out, so I asked how to volunteer for UTMB,” she says. “She printed out a packet and I filled it out and they (UTMB Volunteer Services) called me the next week—I was really excited. I usually volunteer four days a week and I love it.”

Norris is one of nearly 400 active volunteers, including those in Galveston, League City and members of the Angleton Danbury Campus Auxiliary who are passionate about serving UTMB’s patients and their families. In 2016 alone, volunteers donated about 35,000 hours in various capacities, including delivering beverages to waiting areas, providing emotional and spiritual support to patients receiving infusions, greeting and guiding patients and visitors throughout UTMB’s hospitals and clinics, and much more.

“Good morning, my name is Jessica. Would you like something to drink?” Norris asks a patient in the waiting area of the first stop of the day: Surgical Specialties. “We have pink lemonade, coffee and water… Would you like cream or sugar in your coffee?”

Norris gives each person her full attention, asking if they’d like ice in their water,Jessica083 whether they would like a stir stick for their coffee and stopping to give directions if a person looks lost.

“I enjoy meeting a lot of people here, it’s fun,” she says. “I’m not shy—you can’t be shy to go up to people every day.”

Our second stop is at the infusion clinic, where Norris recognizes several patients. She doesn’t even have to ask some people what they would like, she already knows “their drink” and gets to work mixing creamer into a cup of coffee.

Jerry Gutierrez, a patient who has been coming to the infusion clinic several times a week for the past six months, says he has come to look forward to seeing Norris visit the clinic on her daily rounds.

“We like her a lot,” says Gutierrez, who often brings his grandson with him for the three-hour infusions. “She is very kind, very polite, and my grandson loves her lemonade!”

Norris smiles in appreciation and says she enjoys customer service and providing an additional level of compassionate support that enhances the overall patient experience. In fact, her customer service skills are so good, she’s been training young adults in UTMB’s Junior Volunteer Program.

Jessica152“I like to make people happy because if they aren’t happy, then we aren’t representing the clinics well,” says Norris. “It’s not just the medical staff that represent UTMB, it’s everybody, including the volunteers.”

After stopping at all the clinics and waiting rooms, including Women’s Health, Breast Health, Radiology, Orthopedics and Day Surgery, Norris runs out of coffee.

“People ask for lemonade a lot, but people LOVE coffee,” she says matter-of-factly.

We head back upstairs to the breakroom to make a fresh pot, but not before running into another patient who knows Norris well. The woman asks for a cup of coffee and Norris promises to bring a fresh cup to the patient’s waiting room.

By noon, it’s safe to say all thirsts have been quenched—Norris has completed three full rounds of the clinics with the beverage cart. Even in the Day Surgery waiting area, where family members anxiously await important information regarding their loved ones, children and adults look content. It’s obvious she enjoys every minute of her routine—she says hello to countless employees, calling them by their first names, and even shares an enthusiastic high-five with a patient named Jessica, as well.
Norris with staff from the Women's Health clinic
“It’s always nice to be greeted by someone who remembers your name,” says Kelly Douglas, nursing supervisor for the Women’s Health clinic. “She is very friendly and helpful and our patients love her and the work that she does.”

Lauren Davis, a patient service specialist in the Women’s Health clinic, added, “I have seen Jessica’s generosity and kind spirit transform a patient’s anxious demeanor into a warm and genuine smile. She really is an important part of the UTMB team.”

Norris has no plans on slowing down. She continues to take on more duties, such as restocking breakroom supplies, delivering mail to all areas of LCC, and cutting patient care cards. When she’s not volunteering, she’s active in her church choir, is a self-confessed “selfie” addict, and likes to spend time with her younger sister, who is training to become a physician assistant.

Norris and her mother, Stephanie, who is a UTMB nurse“Jessica’s positivity and genuine concern about every person is refreshing,” says Debra Grant, a patient affairs specialist who oversees League City Campus volunteers. “She’s a huge asset. She started out just volunteering Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, but she keeps adding on shifts. I think she would volunteer every day if she could.”

I say goodbye to Norris as she heads to lunch with her mom, who says she’s proud of her daughter. Norris will be back in the afternoon for another four-hour volunteer shift—she doesn’t want to miss any patients who may need a helping hand or friendly smile.

“I’m going to volunteer as long as I can,” she says. “I like helping patients and showing them my kindness—it’s what I do best.”

For more information about volunteering at UTMB, contact Carol Arvie-Gooden, manager of Volunteer Services, at clarvieg@utmb.edu or visit https://utmb.us/2k.