Giving Back & Giving Thanks

Standing in line to vote last week, I felt a great deal of pride in being an American – of living in a country where I have the right to vote and where I have a voice in how the country, our state and our University are run. This is a precious privilege, as well as an important responsibility that doesn’t end when election results are in.

Being an American means feeling a responsibility not only for oneself, but for all other Americans and for those in need around the world. This is rooted in compassion, which is one of my 7Cs and one of the values that defines our University of Michigan Health System community.

Many of you have told me that you like my 7Cs, so with election week behind us and Thanksgiving on the horizon, I want to talk about the C of Compassion and the importance of giving back.

Compassion is the idea that you can put yourself in another person’s shoes and feel empathy. It’s so important to remember that we are not alone in this world and that there are others who experience pain and suffering – many who have it worse than we do. Right now, there are individuals, families and entire communities who are facing long-term recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. People who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina are still struggling to put their lives back together. Just this month, U-M Wallenberg Medal honoree Dr. Denis Mukwege was almost murdered because of his heroic work treating survivors of sexual violence in the Congo. He was subsequently forced to flee his home and the country where he has helped tens of thousands of women and children.

By nature, the work we do at UMHS requires compassion. I have yet to meet one person working in health care who wasn’t drawn to the field because of a fundamental desire to help people. Another thing that I’ve noticed about the UMHS community is that so many of you go above and beyond your work roles to help and serve others as volunteers within UMHS and in the broader community and the world.

For example, last month, more than 30 UMHS physician assistants helped renovate the future home of a fellow U-M employee and raised $4,000 for Habitat for Humanity. This was the fourth year that the group volunteered with Habitat.

Then there is the group of U-M medical students and faculty physicians who donate their time and skills to run a free clinic for uninsured residents of rural Livingston County every Saturday from 1:30 – 5 p.m.

I also hear many stories similar to that of Jennifer Schwab, R.N. Jennifer is a clinical care coordinator and certified diabetes educator in pediatric endocrinology who has used her personal time off time to volunteer as a cabin clinician at Camp Midicha, an American Diabetes Association summer camp in Fenton, MI, for five of the last six years.

The faculty, staff and students of UMHS are lending their hearts, hands and minds across Michigan, across the country and across the globe – all in the name of compassion and service to others.

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding ways to give. Several years ago in December, my family and I spent a week in Guatemala helping to build schools with a group from our synagogue in Indianapolis. We also brought food, decorations and other items with us to create a memorable Christmas celebration for impoverished families. It was an amazing experience to share as a family, and it reinforced in each of us the importance of volunteer work.

Currently, there are more than 1,800 active volunteers who help create a culture of compassion and service in our Health System. From the Motley Crew, a group of U-M student volunteers who provide monthly entertainment for children at Mott, to employees of the Oliver/Hatcher Construction company who volunteer every Thursday at our Skyline Café, to the specially-trained four-legged friends and their human companions who bring the Therapaws program to UMHHC, to employees who volunteer at UMHS in roles other than their day jobs, we are incredibly fortunate to be part of – and to benefit from – such a generous community.

All of these are wonderful examples of people doing amazing things for others. I know that there are many more examples out there in our UMHS community and I want to hear about them.   Today through Thanksgiving, I invite you to share your volunteer story and experience – your personal  “Story of Giving” -  in the comments section below. In doing so, you can inspire others and generate awareness of the countless ways we can give.

I want to wish you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for.


15 thoughts on “Giving Back & Giving Thanks

  1. Alexis Lobdell on said:

    I am proud to work as part of the U of M team. The reputation we have is beyond remarkable. In my position as a Patient Financial Counselor, I hear stories everyday that require an immense amount of empathy and compassion. The replies from our patients is that everyone at U of M go beyond the call of duty. Most of us do not see it that way, if someone needs help, we step in to provide it. My hope is that we will be able to keep our Msupport program going and possibly expand to help even more in our surrounding communities. The economy has left many hard working individuals in a position that leaves them feeling desperate. Having to ask for help is the hardest thing to do for people who have always tended to their everyday needs. It is my hope that we can maintain this sterling reputation that is something to be proud of! Thank you Alexis Lobdell/6158141

  2. Tom Diroff on said:


    Just a few weeks ago the Revenue Cycle folks in the KMS bldg conducted a Warm Clothing Drive for the Detroit Homeless. Over 60 huge bags of coats, boots, socks, sweatshirts, gloves, hats etc… anything to keep a person warm.. were collected. These donations completely filled a minivan and were dropped off in Detroit in order to be distributed to the needy who frequent the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. They said that this winter the Revenue Cycle will be saving lives.

  3. Kenneth C. Ray on said:

    I am a UMHS/MCIT employee who, several years ago, took some PTO to work as a volunteer with the Therapaws of Michigan organization, in bringing dogs into the In-Patient towers for pet-therapy. I normally visited a few units regularly and would make my rounds with my chocolate Labrador Retriever, Quincy. Mr. Dog (his nickname) was quite a hit with both patients and staff.
    On one such occasion, due to contact precautions, I could not visit a young patient who very much wanted to see Mr Dog. I made a deal with her that I would return on the weekend, just to visit her, thus she could have Mr Dog, all to herself and we would not be affecting other patients.
    When I came up to the unit, the nurses told me that the patient had been up early, just to prepare for Mr. Dog’s visit. She was really looking forward to his visit. As we arrived at the patients room, the entire family was present and all thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Dog’s extended visit – we were there for almost an hour. While I have no idea if our therapy was effective, I can attest to the pleasure we provided the patient and family as a result of a simple visit with a dog.

  4. Laura Gable on said:

    I am proud to work at the University of Michigan. This is my 20th year of service. Besides helping patients as a Medical Technologist and delivering vital laboratory results to medical care teams, I am also a long-standing patient as well. I have Cerebral Palsy, and so I volunteer time with the Family Centered Experience group where medical students follow patients like me with chronic conditions. I like being a voice for the patients with Cerebral Palsy that can’t express their concerns about their health care. It is nice to be able to offer words of wisdom for the next generation of doctors in the medical community. I also volunteer for neurology rounds once a year where my cerebral palsy comes in handy and I get to once again educate medical students on the different aspects of my problem with a hands on approach to spasticity.
    Lastly I have helped out the physical medicine group headed by Dr. Edward Hurvitz. I have participated in several research projects as well as tagging along to share my story with the peds./med. group doctors about aging with Cerebral Palsy.
    So I can clearly say that I have served as both employee and patient, and I am proud to be a part of the “Michigan Difference”.

  5. When I moved back to Ann Arbor from Reno, NV in 2008 I was quite depressed as I could not find a job in my field as a landscape architect. Fortunately, I was hired by Don Packard (who is now off to a job in GR – good luck Don!)as a Physical Therapy Technician. At first I was quite a fish out of water, but now that I have been here over 3 years (currently as a Patient Services Assistant), I am reminded every day how fortunate I am to be able to serve others struggling with illness. Each day is special and we all can and do make a difference in the lives of those we serve.

  6. Karen Wutke on said:

    There has to be something with the timing of this message and why I found the email below last night detailing how one young UMHS employee embodied the spirit of Giving and Compassion:

    Hello Carol, Felicia, Louise and Shelli,

    Just wanted to take a moment to comment on the outstanding contributions of an Medical Assistant last night in helping a distraught family member. The name of the Medical Assistant is Jessica Poquette.

    When leaving last evening, I came across a woman . . . who was slumped in a chair crying hysterically. I approached her to offer support and she indicated her husband was a cancer patient who was just placed on life support. She had brought his personal papers to be signed but missed the individual with whom she planned to meet. The woman . . . was becoming more escalated and there were visitors/patients still in the lobby area around 6:15. Jessica, the Medical Assistant, had encountered the woman much in the same way I did and had gone to get her water. When she returned, we moved the woman to [a] Clinic (which was already closed) where she could have more privacy and also not alarm other visitors who were in the lobby area.

    We . . . had an RN page the “on call” social worker. The … staff seemed to know the patient related to this woman and placed the call. [The woman] continued to sob and began to have leg and hand tremors. She shared more detailed information about her relationship with the patient and concerns about practical matters. She also expressed that she had a history of panic attacks and had not taken her medication in several days. She wanted to leave and go to her car for the medication–her vehicle was in Deck A near Taubman. In our conversation with [her] it became clear that in addition to grief there were other significant concerns. Both Jessica and I encouraged her to wait until the Social Worker arrived and we consistently persuaded her to do so.

    We remained with [her] for about a hour until the Social Worker arrived. Jessica did a beautiful job in working with me to support [her]. Shortly before assistance arrived, Jessica was also instrumental in calming this woman by asking her about her baby. The woman immediately reached for her computer to show pictures of her child and this seemed to be grounding for her.

    I was very grateful for Jessica’s contributions last night and hope that the Leadership Team will acknowledge this young woman’s professionalism, compassion and abilities to work collaboratively. She also recognized the importance of two staff members being present during the interaction and appropriately responded to my verbal and non-verbal cues. I have thought about Jessica’s performance many times since last night—we are fortunate to have her as a employee.

    Thanks so much-

    Reading this again and seeing how others give of themselves here at work each day without any hesitation is a heart lifting experience.

    Wishing everyone a generous heart this holiday season.
    Karen Wutke

  7. Wendy Lamentola on said:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! It is always a pleasrue to sit and read your articles. I as well like the 7C’s

  8. Stacie Davis on said:

    I concur. The compassion shown to my family and our little girl is beyond words. It was compassion that caused someone to act on our behalf and save our little girls life. It is this same compassion that I have tried to apply in my own life. Now that I associated with the University as a Clinical Research Associate with MICHR, OPIS, I can further do what I love to do, show compassion and empathy. It helps you to get outside of yourself when you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and grow. I try to exhibit an appreciative heart everyday because I am very thankful for the gifts of compassion that have been shown to me by the University of Michigan Health System.

  9. Linda Weinlander on said:

    This is such a great idea! It is the time of year to give thanks:) I’ve been getting updates from a friend in Queens about Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. She is part of the disaster response and is totally overwhelmed byt the situation and how much is needed. So, our HS friends and I are collecting items and taking the truck on Sat after Thanksgiving. I’ve been through a hurricane and have empathy for their plight. I’m sure it’s just a drop in the bucket but if it helps ONE person, I guess it’s worth it:) Thanks to YOU for asking!

  10. Amanda Howard on said:

    There is no doubt that we should all show gratitude every day for the gifts in our lives, but this time of year, because of the holidays, tends to bring out reflection and compassion in many people. I have a story from my time here at U of M that has provoked a compassion unlike anything I have ever known. In just a few short moments, my entire life was changed. I used to work in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology. I was the Department Administrative Assistant for several years. My duties were that of most other administrative type people, and although I would sometimes talk to patients on the phone or relay information to the physicians, I actually rarely had any patient contact. Of course, I knew what types of patients our physicians treated, and was sympathetic to the diagnoses that some of these kids had to live with in their lives. Diabetes is becoming ever present in our youth today, and no one understands that more than the people that make up the Pediatric Diabetes Team. For a month or so before Christmas, the social worker, Jane, had been working with different Departments to collect gifts for those needy families in our clinic. Living with a child who has diabetes is a life long commitment, a commitment that most of the parents never expected to have to make. Having a child with diabetes can be emotionally, physically, and mentally draining. There were several families for which gifts were collected, and the social worker had emailed me one morning and asked me if there was any way I could help her to distribute the gifts to the families. There was a family member of a patient who was going to drive up to our building, and she simply wanted me to take the cart of gifts out to the family. Because of clinic and timing, she could not be available to do this. I, of course, said that I would help out. Little did I know that would be one of the greatest moments of my life. As I took the cart of beautifully wrapped gifts out to this mother, I smiled and waved and wondered how we were going to fit all these large gifts into her very small car. She approached me and thanked me for meeting her on this cold day outside. I asked her how she wanted to situate the gifts so that they would fit in her car. Suddenly, she turned to me, grabbed me, and hugged me so very tightly. She cried and cried and continually thanked me for this wonderful opportunity to give her kids a “real Christmas”. She began to tell me that she had nothing to give her children, and that these gifts were going to be all that they would get that year. I looked into the eyes of this mother, and being a mother myself, I instantly understood what she felt. It was her only wish to have her children wake up Christmas morning and find something under their tree. My heart felt broken, and happy at the same moment. Although I did nothing more than deliver these gifts to the car, this mother made me feel as if I had just given her family a new chance at life. I reassured her that I had little to do with any of this and that it was Jane that coordinated it all, but deep down I felt a sense of pride that I had never before felt. This mother told me how much we had changed her life, but in reality, it was her who had changed mine. Since that time, I always give gifts to needy families in my community, and teach my young children about the gift of giving to others. I have never before told her this, but I am thankful to Jane for giving me the opportunity to see how much joy a simple effort can create in another human being. None of us have a true understanding of the impact we have on others….we should all just take a moment and be thankful for all that we have. Through the compassion of many people here at UMHS, we made a difference that day, and I was fortunate enough to be at the forefront of that experience! I am a proud employee of U of M- it is such a great place to work. And although I have moved on now, the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology will always have a special place in my heart!

  11. Susan Blaisdell on said:

    I would like to utilize this forum to recognize and thank the myriad of UMHS volunteers who have helped make the Holiday Stockings for Chemotherapy Patients project a huge success. This year will mark our 14th year and a cumulative milestone of over 7,000 patients served. This would not be possible without the dedication of our wonderful volunteers. I can not tell you how heart warming it has been to see the face of someone sitting in their chemo chair as they receive & open one of the stockings – their eyes light up and their face transforms with a big smile.

  12. Dear Anne and friends on 11 West at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital,

    Thank you for your participation in our Holiday Wishes program! Your donation of several gift cards, three food baskets, and gifts for a whole family (dated 12/15/2012) has helped us make this a special holiday season for the families who are living at Alpha House and for those who have stayed at Alpha House in the past year. Your generous donation reminds every family at Alpha House that their community supports them, cares for them and is willing to help them on their journey to stability.

    Alpha House is a community response to homelessness. We could not fulfill our mission of providing shelter and support to families who are working to find jobs, secure housing and move forward to a stable future without your help. With your holiday support, our families will experience a holiday season filled with joy and blessings, even in the midst of difficult times. Thank you for making this possible!

    The ultimate gift is a place to call home and we thank you again for sharing your generosity this holiday season with families who have experienced homelessness in our community.

    With gratitude,

    Shana Bussa, MSW
    Development Director
    Alpha House

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