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America is known as the world's melting pot and nowhere is that sentiment more noticeable than in the U.S. Army, and more locally, Martin Army Community Hospital, which opened its Red Cross Volunteer Center July 15 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an additional event to recognize its youth volunteers.
The event was hosted by Col. Marie A. Dominguez, commander of Martin Army Community Hospital, and Michele Walton, Fort Benning's American Red Cross director.
MACH's Red Cross Volunteer program features various volunteers from different walks of life. Some are military spouses or may be related to the military life in other ways. They may be college students seeking to use their volunteer experience as a stepping stone toward a medical career path. Or, in the case of those participating in the Youth Volunteer Program, they may want to find out more about the military lifestyle, before later making a decision after high school.
Ariel Dominguez is one such volunteer, who brings a wealth of knowledge and diversity to MACH's volunteer program. She is the hospital commander's daughter and a college graduate. Ariel says she volunteers to help those in need, but to also gain some valuable experience.
"I graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and I really haven't been able to find jobs because of a lack of experience," she explained. "This is sort of a way for me to gain some experience in a business setting. I came to the program and they asked if I wanted to help with the Youth Program. I was interested, so I volunteered."
She said she is pleased with the MACH Red Cross Volunteer program.
"So far, it's good. I think they need volunteers because volunteers help get patients to their appointments, help them with directions and we perform some clerical work that maybe, people don't have at the top of their list of priorities," Ariel said, further pointing out that volunteers are a key component of the day-to-day operation of the facility.
"I think volunteers (make it happen). We hear from patients who may have a lot of suggestions as to how to make the hospital better," she continued.
Ariel said her advice to others who may be considering volunteering is to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I guess it would depend on what they want to do in the hospital, and to do something that they are really interested in doing. There are a lot of options here. As a volunteer, you could work in several departments. A lot of people are getting their master's degree and they're working in areas where they will benefit them, and they can use their knowledge and skills to help other people in that department. Some people are just here because they just love helping patients. It really depends on what you want to do," she said.
Dominguez said having strong social skills is what motivated her to volunteer. "I like getting out there and talking with people in the hospital and having that communication with them, but I also like gaining experience and learning how the system works," Dominguez said.
"I would tell anyone, become a volunteer for Martin Army Community Hospital," she added. Navy retiree Bill Shirley and his wife Renate are longtime volunteers at the hospital. The Shirleys can be seen on any given day transporting patients to their destinations or providing directions to those in need.
They provided some advice to those who wish to become volunteers with the Red Cross program.
"Want to help people?" said Bill, a 71-year-old avid half-marathon runner. "Have an open mind and help people, no matter what kind of help they need. It's so rewarding when you help someone and they come back and say, 'I just want to tell you, thank you for helping me.'"
"You get back more than you give," added Renate, who's 72, but also an avid runner. "It's different here. I also volunteer at another local hospital, but it's so much friendlier here. The staff, the people, we just love it."
Gaining valuable experience was also a motivating factor for Rebecca Toland, MACH's Red Cross Volunteer coordinator.
"My reason for volunteering is probably the same as it is for the majority of people who volunteer, especially adults. I'm working on my master's degree in social work and it's wonderful to see, because I never knew all that the Red Cross and the hospital had to offer as far as helping military Families and patients," she said. "We all come together to work as a team, both the volunteers and the staff, whether it's civilian employees or the active duty service members."
She said that once she realized that volunteering would help her in achieving her goal of working with active duty service members and veterans in a mental health capacity, she was sold on the idea.
"(Volunteering) will allow me to do that and meet wonderful people and network. It serves as hands-on experience," she added.
Toland said she has also volunteered at several local facilities, but this is her first time working for the American Red Cross.
"Here, I get to meet wonderful people and it's really sort of a payback to me because all of the things that you hear about the youth as far as them not being like they used to be, or considering the bad stuff that is normally associated with young people today, the Youth Volunteer Program has proven that all of it is not true. They're doing wonderful things and their supervisors are bragging, and this gives them an opportunity to learn soft skills as well as providing them with a possible interest in the medical field," she said.
MACH's Youth Volunteer Program began June 5 and ended July 15. This year, 48 youth volunteers worked and contributed more than 2,825 man-hours to various hospital programs.