JoAnn Miller loves Tuesdays, her day to volunteer at Children's Hospital Central California. It's something she's done a long time -- her first day was Jan. 31, 1987.
Twenty-six years later, she is the longest-running currently active volunteer at the hospital, where she has a reputation for being in a cheerful mood, trying to see the good in others and wanting to help people in need.
She volunteers as a chaplain aide, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., mainly talking with parents and grandparents in Day Surgery waiting rooms. If they consent, she prays with them. And from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, she is a clerical worker in the diabetes clinic.
"Then, I go to my sister's for a Bible study," she says. "So it's a full day."
Hospital officials say they aren't sure how many people have served as volunteers at Children's Hospital over the years. That's because some volunteer names weren't transferred into the Madera hospital's upgraded software from the old hospital in Fresno. The software generates a volunteer identification number, which is issued sequentially.
Miller's ID number is 149. A recent volunteer was issued No. 8,497. There are about 500 volunteers currently working at the hospital.
Erin Collins, manager of volunteer services at the hospital, says volunteers play important roles as they reach out to patients and their families.
"Everyone is feeling anxious when they come to hospitals," Collins says. "They have other things on their mind and other things to do. When volunteers can help, that does a lot for the families.
"Volunteers continue to come here when they feel part of the team. Everyone has their role. ... JoAnn has shown that she has a caring heart."
Miller says she decided to take the hospital's training class when her daughter's husband was assigned to Naval Station Great Lakes near north Chicago and the family moved away.
"(They) took all my grandchildren," she says. "I guess I'm a vicarious grandmother."
She also thought she would use the hospital's training to help her mother in a nursing home. Then, her mother died.
"It was, 'OK, I'll stay at the hospital,' " she says. "I'm glad I didn't leave. I'm glad I'm here."
She initially volunteered with the hospital's health education program. In 2003, she was named the hospital's Administrative Volunteer of the Year.
Now, she starts her busy Tuesdays, wearing a blue vest that identifies her as a chaplain aide. When she finishes that shift, she dons her original turquoise apron identifying her as a clerical worker in the diabetes clinic.
"They don't even make that color apron anymore," Collins says.
Many patients and their families say they benefit from Miller talking and praying with them.
On a recent day, Miller talked with Maria Soto and Christopher Weinert of Visalia in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Their son, Richard Sebastian Weinert, was born in January, six weeks early and with a congenital heart defect. He had heart surgery and is recovering.
"He's hanging in there," Soto says.
Miller prayed with the couple, which Soto says "means a lot to us."
Weinert says he felt "peace of mind" after Miller's visit.
"Volunteers add to the quality of your visit," he says.
In the Day Surgery waiting room, Miller talked with Christina Williams of Los Banos and her father, Chris Williams. Her son, Christopher Mungle, 10, was having a tonsillectomy.
"I'm a little nervous, but I think he's going to be OK," Christina Williams says. "We prayed with him before he went in. He asked, 'Can I have a donut when I get out?' "
Miller says she hopes to raise people's spirits at difficult times.
"I love people," she says. "I can't imagine what parents are going through."
She always leaves people with the same words: "I'll see you next week, but I hope you're not here. I hope you get to go home with your precious children."
When she isn't volunteering, Miller enjoys her six grandchildren and three great grandchildren and helps others in a widows' support group that she started at Northwest Church in northwest Fresno.
Other volunteers at Children's Hospital are on similar missions.
Elaine Jones of Coarsegold, a former store manager at Gottschalks in Clovis and Oakhurst, says she enjoys helping others while in retirement.
She volunteers in the Craycroft Cancer Center, where children are hospitalized, and the outpatient oncology center. She works 9:30 a.m. to noon Wednesdays and Thursdays. She started nearly two years ago.
During her shifts, Jones tries to find out what children enjoy doing -- coloring, playing games, watching videos -- and joins them.
"I try to build relations because some of the children and their parents have been here anywhere from one to two months to one to two weeks," she said. "I spend time with them. I also offer parents breaks, so they can go get a cup of coffee or just get away for a while."
Asked why she is a volunteer, Jones' voice cracks with emotion when she says: "I feel like I'm giving back, and I also feel like I'm making a difference. It touches my heart.
"Anybody who has the free time and wants to volunteer -- this is the place to do it."
How to help
Those interested in volunteering at Children's Hospital Central California should contact Volunteer Services at (559) 353-5222. Information also is available at childrenscentralcal.org by clicking on Volunteer @ Children's.
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or (559)441-6304.