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VISTA Reflections

Reflections on a Year of National Service

~October 2009~

Editor's Note: Meet Megan Thompson, a VISTA volunteer serving in Eastern Washington. She is performing a year of National Community service through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. (Think of it as a domestic Peace Corps program.) Her column each month will reflect on her experiences in working in a community to build capacity. This is the story of volunteer community service as up-close and personal as it comes. (VISTA--Volunteers in Service to America)                                       

Making a Difference

“His (Doug Holle’s) passengers were getting a lot for the change they put in the fare box.”  Tri-City Herald, June 26, 2009

“He is a great example of the feeling that one person really can make a difference.”         Tim Fredrickson, Ben Franklin Transit System’s manager, in an all employee message regarding Doug Holle’s death

Cathy Merrill Holle, Executive Director at the Benton-Franklin Volunteer Center (where I’m serving my VISTA year), unexpectedly lost her husband Doug this past summer.  In a June 26 article, “Passengers, friends, will miss Doug Holle,” the Tri-City Herald noted, “One of the many ways that he made a difference was in hearing of passengers' troubles, then asking his wife, Cathy Merrill Holle, what that passenger should do. Cathy, head of The [Benton-Franklin Counties] Volunteer Center, would suggest what the passenger could do and perhaps whom to see for help.”

I was writing a grant and asked Cathy for suggestions to illustrate the difference volunteers can make, she described the impact Kennewick General Hospital’s (KGH’s) Auxiliary had had on her during her husband’s final illness.

The ladies of the KGH Auxiliary have a service group, typically about 30 strong.  Its members are from the Volunteer Center’s Corporation for National and Community Service-sponsored Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.  Many of these women are in their ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  One of the groups heartfelt outreach activities is their creation of handmade quilts, primarily for patients.

KGH and the Volunteer Center enjoy a satisfying relationship, in part because Cathy had a former position as the manager of volunteers with KGH’s.  In June, as Cathy sat vigil at KGH, for two weeks, while her husband, Doug, lost the struggle to survive his unexpected illness; even sleeping near his bedside.  Doug never made it out of ICU, an environment kept cold for medical reasons.  The KGH Auxiliary provided a quilt and pillow to ensure that Cathy was warmed and comforted.

Because of Cathy’s experience, such quilts will be offered to any family member faced with the chill of KGH’s ICU.  Like Cathy, the handmade quilt will be offered as a keepsake.  The effort of this group to comfort Cathy means a new service of the KGH Auxiliary will be in place to comfort the many who follow, having to endure such vigils.

An auxiliary member, perhaps a widow reached out to a new widow, creating an embroidered edge for Cathy’s quilt.  There was Doug’s name and the date of Cathy’s final moments with him (and the auxiliary’s unforgettable gesture of kindness).

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Megan Thompson has volunteered since tutoring Vietnamese refugees as a high school student.  She earned a masters in social work from Eastern Washington University, following a BS Business Administration with a management and organization specialization from Central Washington University, and Columbia Basin Community College degrees in Chemical Dependency and Human Services.  After 15 years of coordinating and administrative support roles, she began self-employment as a grant writer, before suspending it for her year of National Service.  She has written and researched grants for various Eastern Washington non-profits serving at-risk children, youth, and young adults.

Corporation for National and Community Service

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