Behind the Scenes at Avera McKennan: The Heart of a Volunteer

It all started with heart surgery.

After he healed, Joe Ahlers was asked to volunteer in the Mended Hearts program and visit patients at the Avera Heart Hospital. As a survivor, he encourages current heart patients.

A year after starting as a volunteer at the heart hospital, he also began volunteering at Avera McKennan.

“I say three times a week is enough,” Ahlers said. He stills needs his “goof off time” after all.

Joe the Paper Boy

Thursday and Friday mornings start with newspaper deliveries. Today is the morning after a holiday, which means twice the papers. His sophisticated delivery cart, a wheelchair, is full with newsprint.

A former rural mailman, there couldn’t be a more perfect job for Joe.

His burgundy vest, marking him as a volunteer, holds two pins. One is for his volunteer of the month award, which he received in 2009, and the other is for serving as a volunteer for five years, which he has long surpassed now.

He gets in his share of walking as an Avera McKennan volunteer, and his pedometer will prove it. The previous Friday morning he logged 15,000 steps.

Make Them Smile

After his newspaper deliveries, Joe mans the reception desk in Plaza 2 with another volunteer, Jack Gill.

Joe is quite skilled at determining whether or not patients need help finding their way.

“You can just tell,” Joe said. “You get to read their faces.”

One of his first days as an Avera McKennan volunteer, he was transporting a patient and became lost. The patient didn’t mind because they were having so much fun.

On my morning with Joe, he was pushing a patient in a wheelchair back to his/her vehicle, and the patient said to go “straight ahead,” (into a staircase). Joe joked back and pretended to continue going straight.

His sense of humor translated into several quotable moments that morning including, “a hug’s just a friendly handshake” and “call me anything you want except late for a meal.”

Joe’s mission as a volunteer is perfectly captured in his own words: “My job is to make them smile when they come in and smile when they leave.”

By Kristina Johnson

Marketing Intern at Avera McKennan

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