Finding purpose in ‘service to others’

By Chelsea Retherford | Living 50 Plus

Faye Hester took about two months off from work after retiring from the Helen Keller Hospital business office in July of 1998. The following September, she returned to volunteer at the hospital, where she will celebrate 25 years and more than 10,000 hours of service work this fall.

“I know what the volunteers meant to us when I was working here, so I decided when I retired, I would come back,” Hester said, adding that the “service to others” motivates her to return to work each week.

As a volunteer, she has the freedom to choose her own schedule and work on her terms, a move that she said hasn’t infringed too much on her free time.

“I work Wednesday afternoons, and I was able to choose that afternoon,” she said. “I’m ready when I get off to go to church, and I just thought that would be the best day. I have worked things around so that I don’t do anything on Wednesday mornings, except I walk before I come in.”

“She is very active,” said Karran Sasser, director of the Helen Keller Volunteer Program.

Sasser said volunteers like Hester are an invaluable commodity to the hospital, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit and service work has dwindled.

“At one time, the hospital had over 100 volunteers,” Sasser said. “Some (volunteers) have passed away, or are unable to work.”

Now the volunteer program has about 20 retirees running the gift shop on a volunteer basis, and about 20 others who are waiting to return to work in the dial-a-volunteer program.

“They do a little bit of everything,” Sasser said. “When they return, they will have their own room where they can be called to run a lab, or run a wheelchair for someone who’s being discharged.”

Hester was one of the returning volunteers for the gift shop, which will resume normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. after being closed for nearly three years following the virus outbreak.

Before that three-year COVID hiatus, Hester said she volunteered full-time as gift shop manager.

“I worked about 40 hours a week. We bought merchandise, tagged it, and stocked it,” she said.

During that time, she was still able to travel as she’d hoped in her retirement, enjoying a number of cruises and several group trips all over the world.

“I’ve been to the Bahamas, I’ve been to Alaska, I’ve been to Hawaii, I’ve been to Europe,” she said. “I go to the beach at least once a year. I go to the mountains at least once a year.”

Her most recent trip to Patti’s 1880s Settlement in Grand Rivers, Kentucky, was both unexpected and memorable, she said. She also recently enjoyed a road trip from Nevada to California after flying west with a group of friends.

While her time off from volunteering gave her more free time for traveling and spending time with friends and family, she said she missed the fulfillment and purpose that service work brought to her life.

“It was quite an adjustment to come back. A lot of things had changed,” she said. “I did miss it at first, but you get used to it. Then coming back is another adjustment.”

Sasser said the hospital’s volunteer program includes those who retired from a health care profession, as well as individuals who were bankers and teachers with other skillsets and qualifications.

Before the program was shut down in 2020, Sasser said students would volunteer as well. Now that the program is kicking off again, she said students are encouraged to register.

“My daughter did,” Hester said. “I drove my daughter (Cindy Randolph) when she was volunteering for a summer.”

Hester also recruited an old friend to volunteer, who has continued working through the program for about 10 years.

“Jeannette (Kimbrough) and I had been friends for years,” Hester said. “I got her involved after her husband died. It wasn’t very long after that she came to volunteer with me here.”

Hester said she’s formed other connections and lasting friendships through the volunteer program at Keller Hospital.

“I met a girl the day we started volunteering, and we’re really good friends now,” Hester said of Shirley Brocato, who has nearly as many service hours under her belt as Hester.

Another fellow volunteer, Wanda Berry, has recorded more than 8,000 hours of volunteer work, Sasser said.

“I still enjoy seeing the employees,” Hester said. “I don’t know as many people as I did when I first started volunteering. I knew all the employees when I worked at the information desk. It’s changed dramatically over the years, but I still enjoy seeing the employees and speaking to them.”

Hester said she prefers working in the gift shop, which Sasser said is mostly shopped by hospital employees.

“We’re trying to get the word out to the community,” Hester said. “We sell a lot of baby gifts, stuffed animals and balloons to visitors to the nursery upstairs. We carry everything. We have clothing and jewelry, and we’ve had work from two local artists. A local author sells her books here.”

Hester and Sasser said revenue made in the gift shop goes towards the Helen Keller Hospital Foundation, which funds upgraded equipment for patient care.


Those interested in getting involved with the Helen Keller Volunteer Program can submit an application under the Volunteer Services tab on the Helen Keller Hospital website —