Earlier this year, a few members of our SEI team, along with several clients, had the opportunity to take a private tour of the Shepherd Center to learn more about the facility, patient care programs, and assistive technology capabilities. Founded in 1975, the Shepherd Center is a not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatments, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, and other neuromuscular conditions. The Shepherd Center treats patients from all over the world and their specialized care is centered around helping patients regain their independence and reconstruct their lives in a way that gives them the confidence and knowledge to cope with their temporary or permanent conditions. The tour showed me what courage and commitment looked like from the staff, patients, and their families.
Prior to the tour, I knew very little about the Shepherd Center or the work they did. However, after the tour, I couldn’t stop talking about the hospital and thinking about the patients. When it was time to select an organization as part of SEI’s volunteering focus, the Shepherd Center was an obvious choice. After meeting with the Shepherd Volunteer Services team, SEI decided to host a cookout social in August for patients and their families, which would provide a much-needed social outlet. Of course, this couldn’t be just any cookout social, it had to have a theme. One of our consultants suggested a Hawaiian theme and volunteered to make all the decorations herself! Serving stations were dressed in grass skirts, tables were adorned with hand-made paper tiki bars and palm trees, and patients and their families were greeted with colorful leis. SEI donated enough burgers, hot dogs, bags of chips, cookies, cases of soft drinks, more beans than anyone could imagine consuming, and probably all the coleslaw our local warehouse club had in stock.
Our volunteering team consisted of consultants, their families, and even some of our clients! We divvied up our roles and even the youngest and littlest volunteers had a job to do. Consultants set up and grilled meats, client volunteers served the food, and our youngest volunteers rolled utensils in napkins and placed cookies on trays. The real treat, however, was being able to serve and spend some time with the patients and their families. Patients shared their stories, opened up about their challenges, and were happy to be making new friends.
For patients who were not able to leave their rooms, we made “to-go” meals that a couple of our consultants and their children delivered. One of our consultants commented that as much as it moved him to deliver this simple meal, it was even more eye-opening and impactful to his 10-year old son. In fact, on their drive home, the son asked “I really like working and helping with your company. What is the next work event I can help?” Our young volunteer was not the only person who enjoyed his time that evening. The Shepherd Center team shared that several patients were still talking about the fun event over the weekend and one person said it was the best hot dog she had eaten in a long time! Definitely a “win” for all involved.
It is safe to say that most of us have experienced events in our lives that have left imprints on our hearts. For me, and many of my SEI colleagues, it was the Shepherd Center cookout. We are thankful for our wonderful clients who came out to support this event, and to the Shepherd Center for giving us an opportunity to serve and spread a little bit of cheer. We look forward to our next event – a pumpkin carving and pizza party for the adolescent patients and their families. Just in time to say “Happy Halloween!”