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Yellow Gold - Volunteer Corps turns 60

Yellow Gold - Volunteer Corps turns 60

There are many notable milestones of which Baxter Regional can be justifiably proud, from creating a Best Place to Work to earning Magnet status to growing and thriving at a time when many small hospitals have altogether ceased to be. But arguably, none of these accolades tops the accomplishments and daily impact of the plucky corps of volunteers known affectionately as the Yellow Army, so named for their distinctive yellow uniform shirts.

This cadre of individuals plays a number of roles in the daily life of the hospital. Dutifully reporting to their posts as they have for the past six decades, volunteers greet patients and their families, give directions and assistance, shuttle people in from the parking lot and staff the gift shop. They represent the first person a patient sees when they arrive and the last who bids them a good day as they leave. And in that sense, the Yellow Army is the very face of the Baxter Regional experience. “Would our hospital run without volunteers? It certainly would,” said Becky Rose, CVM, Director of Volunteer Services. “But it wouldn’t have that same look or feel. Our volunteers are helping people on probably not the best day of their life. If you’re coming to the hospital, it’s because you’ve got some kind of health issue going on. Our volunteers help people navigate a very difficult day.”

The volunteer auxiliary formed in April, 1962, 18 months before the original Baxter General Hospital opened its doors. The group has been around so long, it sees its fair share of second-generation volunteers, such as current Baxter Regional Auxiliary President Joan Young. “My mom had been a nurse at Baxter Regional and when she retired, she took a big, long trip, then came back and started volunteering at the hospital,” Young said. “She loved doing it; she’d say, ‘I’ve got to go to work today.’ And I’d say, ‘I thought you said you’d never work again at the hospital.’ She said, ‘This isn’t work. This is volunteering.’ And that kind of stuck with me. “I was still a full-time employee when I heard they were needing someone every fifth Saturday in the gift shop. I thought, why not? I started in 2006.” The Yellow Army has not yet rebounded to pre-COVID participation levels, but those who have come back have racked up some pretty impressive numbers, serving 64,000 volunteer hours in 2021.

The group has also proven itself potent at fundraising, contributing nearly $650,000 last year, generated from a combination of sales in the hospital gift shop, two local resale stores and assorted monthly fundraisers. And then there’s the endowment, raised a few years ago in an effort spearheaded by Carolyn Hannon, then-Baxter Regional Auxiliary Chairman. The former nurse pitched the idea of an endowment, something Barney Larry, Executive Director of Baxter Regional Hospital Foundation, eagerly endorsed. “I told Barney I would like the auxiliary to do something like an endowment,” Hannon said. “He said, ‘OK, how much do you think? Two hundred, three hundred thousand?’ I said, ‘No, a million dollars.’“ His eyes got sort of large and he said, ‘Do you really think the auxiliary can do that?’ I said, ‘I have no doubt about our money-earning skills.’”

Larry gave the group 10 years to accomplish the feat; Hannon promised it in seven and the organization delivered it, fully funded, in six. She called the endowment the most vivid example of the group’s can-do spirit, something that starts from the top down. “I think we have had good leadership,” Hannon said. “Becky (Rose) and Barney (Larry) and Ron Peterson, our CEO, have all been very supportive of everything we’ve done. Some things we know we can’t do, but 99 percent of the stuff they’ll say, ‘Go for it,’ and we have.” Today, the Yellow Army remains an integral part of the Baxter Regional brand.

Through its fundraising, it has purchased equipment, kicked in on capital campaigns and even bought multiple ambulances. Its financial strength ranks the hospital’s auxiliary behind only Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, despite residing in a community a fraction of the size. The need for bodies is always there, which is why current volunteers are constantly in recruiting mode. Joan Young’s pitch is simple: There’s no better way to give back to society, she tells people, than volunteering at the hospital. Whether it’s writing the big checks or sharing the small moments, there’s something good waiting for every volunteer’s soul. “Everybody is here for the same common goal: to make things better,” she said. “There’s a joy in the gift of giving back, touching a life in ways you may never fully know about. That gives you a feeling like when you see the mountains for the first time. There are no words for it sometimes.”