A little more than a year ago, we asked the staff at NHRMC to buy into a movement we basically created from our own imagination.
What if, we posed to 7,000 workers, some of you gave away your time, your talent and your passion to the causes most important to us and our community? Could we change a family? A school? A community? A culture?
We gave it a name – NHRMC Mission Corps – called leaders “ambassadors” and asked them to wear their teal NHRMC T-shirts while volunteering. We made some suggestions, then turned loose the charitable goodness of our staff on the community.
Today, we look back on Mission Corps as one of the proudest accomplishments of the “Leading Our Community To Outstanding Health” mission we adopted less than three years ago. Mission Corps’ model would work in just about any workplace. If you guide your staff to the opportunities they care about and tell them this is who you are as an organization, there is no limit to what they can achieve.
When Lisa Edgerton, a Pharm D “knighted” as our Mission Corps leader, rolled out the program to NHRMC leadership, we were hoping we could convince enough volunteers to “adopt” five classrooms in high-poverty schools. The next day, a coordinator in finance said her team wanted to take on an entire school.
That’s how we got started. We have had as many as 45 classrooms “adopted” at Snipes, Freeman and Alderman elementary schools and Dorothy B. Johnson Pre-K. We asked that groups of four coordinate with a teacher and essentially take on the role of classroom parent – tutoring, mentoring, bringing in snacks and helping on field trips. But we really made up the rules as we went along.
The first volunteer went to meet her teacher at Snipes and thought ahead to bring her a cup of Port City Java coffee.
The teacher almost cried. This is what we’re dealing with in our high-poverty schools. Life overwhelms the families of these students, and the teachers end up getting so little community support that a simple gesture from a caring adult can bring them to tears.
From here, we created some of the most enduring, tender relationships you can imagine. Volunteers read to students. They talk to them about careers and opportunities – to the point where we even put on a “Healthy Me” career fair at Snipes. They push them on the swing sets, attend their school plays and congratulate them on projects. A group of 20 showed up at College Park Elementary to stand in for parents who couldn’t get off work so that the students would have someone to “report out” their nine-week progress to.
In return, the kids hug them tight, digging their tiny fingers around their necks. Our volunteers buy them shoes, clothes and snacks – even though we told them that wasn’t part of the deal. But they can’t help themselves when faced with the need they are seeing.
One teacher at Snipes told me that her group kept bringing in healthy snacks.
“A lot of snacks,” she said. “We stopped buying the junk food. They wouldn’t eat it.”
A nearby parent marveled that her child came home asking for hummus.
And that’s Mission Corps at its essence. In about six months, four committed volunteers modeled the right eating habits and changed a culture, at least for the time being, for a group of 20 children. Imagine if we multiplied that by four, 40 or 400. That’s our mission in action.
Mission Corps is not just in schools. Largely in conjunction with our excellent community partners, we are in so many places. We are building our ninth Habitat for Humanity house this year, and our nurses raised money on their own to build a tenth. With the YMCA we created a vibrant neighborhood activity most Saturdays called “Dancin’ in the Park” in the Northside neighborhood, and have a chance to take this model to Leland. Dozens of our rehabilitation therapists volunteer at the “Miracle Field” for Access Wilmington to help those with physical and intellectual disabilities play T-ball and circle the bases on their own.
On many Saturdays, you can find clinical volunteers in local barber shops, taking blood pressures or offering vaccination shots, the most grassroots of community care. A group of New Hanover Regional EMS workers took on a home rebuilding project for a patient through the Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry.
Through NourishNC, we staff MarKIDS events where we give away fresh vegetables and fruit to children, and teach them about it. Our just-completed third NHRMC Food Drive, led by uber-ambassador Corey Yingling, raised $21,000 worth of food for NourishNC.
We tend a garden at NHRMC Physician Group - Cape Fear Heart Associates, with much of the food going to patients. We painted at the Hope Recuperative Care House, where homeless guests can live after leaving the hospital. Our medication takeback event brought in 4,000 pounds of medications from 19 sites in six counties, and our teams participated in numerous projects for Work on Wilmington.
And after Hurricane Florence, we staffed a donation center in our Women’s and Children’s Hospital, giving away food, clothing, supplies and other items – especially cleaning supplies – donated by community partners.
No one has asked to be paid or reimbursed, and we admittedly don’t do a great job of keeping track of our hours. Our best tracking says our team has given more than 4,800 hours so far, or the equivalent of about 2 ½ people working full-time for a year.
It’s not always easy to keep the momentum. The first wave of volunteers in some areas has worn out, and it’s time for the next group to step up. It’s certainly not logistically possible for everyone to take part.
But for those who make up Mission Corps, they are slowly but surely changing a community. And, if you ask them, changing themselves as well.
Scott Whisnant is Administrator of Community Engagement of New Hanover Regional Medical Center.