Me and my amazing volunteer shadow

April 17, 2017

AHS leaders don volunteer vests to celebrate the contributions of our 13,620 dedicated helpers for National Volunteer Week

Story by Janet Mezzarobba

Over the course of a year, more than 13,620 volunteers fill essential roles throughout Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Among their many contributions, volunteers manage patient visits, give input to improve the quality and safety of healthcare, play wayfinding roles and tend our retail shops to raise funds.

In honour of the important roles our volunteers play — and to celebrate National Volunteer Week — members of the AHS Executive and Senior Leadership Teams shadowed a volunteer and learned the ropes of various volunteer roles, while participating in a shift with an AHS volunteer earlier this month.

“Volunteers are a central part of building environments that support patient- and family-centred care,” says Michele Rondot, Manager of Volunteer Resources for Calgary Zone. “Coming to the hospital can be a scary and daunting experience, and our volunteers can help make this experience a little friendlier.”

Vice President and Chief Health Operations Officer Brenda Huband shadowed Barb Charleston, a volunteer wayfinder at Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary. “The role of volunteers is indispensable,” says Huband. “They make a huge difference to patients and families in different ways, and help with the journey of anyone who walks into our facilities.”

As an Emergency Department volunteer at the Northeast Community Health Centre in Edmonton, Shakib Rahman manages many administrative duties to keep the ED running smoothly so staff can better focus on patient care. “I think it’s about integrating what the volunteers do with what the staff does, and ensuring the medical staff can focus on patient care,” says Rahman.

In shadowing Rahman on one of his volunteer shifts, Todd Gilchrist, Vice President, People, Legal and Privacy, saw first-hand the essential roles volunteers can play. “The value of our volunteers is priceless, and the work they do is incredibly important as it helps keep the operations of the organization flowing smoothly,” he says.

Grant Walker, Senior Operating Officer, Community Programs, South Zone, shadowed volunteer Amanda Stoperski at the Jack Ady Cancer Centre in Lethbridge. He concurs with Gilchrist on the vital roles volunteers have in helping ensure top notch patient care.

“It was really great to see and understand some of the steps that our volunteers take to make the care environment for our patients that much better,” says Walker. “Our volunteers are a friendly face, and someone who’s really able to attend to a patient’s comfort needs, and emotional needs at the same time.”

As a volunteer wayfinder at the largest hospital in Alberta, Ambrose Gross knows firsthand the large volume of patients and visitors who come and go at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. He estimates that during each shift he helps about 35 people find their way around the 83-acre site, logging more 18,000 steps, or just over 11 km on his Fitbit.

“What struck me is how thoughtful our volunteers are, and how willing they are to go the extra mile to help patients and families,” says Dr. Ted Braun, Vice President and Medical Director, Central and Southern Alberta, who shadowed Gross on one of his wayfinding shifts.

“I observed Ambrose as he met people entering the building, often anticipating what information and guidance might be helpful to them,” he adds. “Our volunteers are a huge asset to AHS as they are able to provide the little things that add up to a make a huge difference in a patient, family member or visitor’s day.”

In shadowing South Health Campus volunteer wayfinder Larry Loomes, Dr. Francois Belanger, Vice President, Quality and Chief Medical Officer, echoes Dr. Braun’s experience. “It was very busy during my volunteer shift and demonstrated to me how important our volunteers are to our workforce. Our volunteers provide an essential service.”

Julie Schellenberg, Director, Integrated Quality Management, Planning and Performance in Central Zone, shadowed Red Deer Regional Hospital Patient Experience Advisor Gerry Johnston.

“Our volunteers all have a skill that can provide an opportunity for volunteering, even if they don’t have a healthcare background,” says Schellenberg. “Our volunteers play an active role, and make a real difference to our patients, families and healthcare teams.”

According to Rondot, the benefits of volunteering go both ways. Staff and physicians often say how grateful patients and families are to have the support of volunteers.

“I love being able to help people,” says Loomes.

“I look forward to volunteering every time I come here, says Johnston. “If I can find one thing to help make a patient a little more comfortable, then I’ve done my job.”

Gross concurs: “I enjoy every minute of my volunteering at the Foothills Medical Centre. It feels so good to know you’re helping people.”

Volunteer week is a great time to showcase the hard work of our volunteers and the many roles they fill within AHS, says Rondot. “We are grateful that so many volunteers have chosen to share their time and experience to help our patients and families, and this week is a time to show these volunteers how much we appreciate them for all they do.”

National Volunteer Week runs April 23 to 29. Please take the time to thank our great volunteers in person or leave them a note at


Dr. Ted Braun, Vice President and Medical Director, Central and Southern Alberta, shadows volunteer wayfinder Ambrose Gross at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary.