Volunteer appreciation week is April 17-23, 2022. In honor of appreciation week, we’d like to highlight the incredible volunteer work of one of our staff members, Jane Dorman. Jane started working at the University of Iowa 29 years ago, in University Housing. It was 1993, the year of a huge flood, and her role included crisis mitigation and running the summer conference operation. Jane jokes that she started this job with “trial by water instead of by fire”. Despite her role being centered around college students she didn’t actually interact with them in her day-to-day work. Having previously been director of a TRIO program that worked closely with students at high risk for not completing a college degree, she missed daily student interaction. That desire to return to working with students influenced her choice to transition to the College of Engineering, where on April 1st she celebrated her 25-year anniversary in the College! Currently she serves as the Director of Admissions and Student Life. In addition to working full-time, Jane has volunteered at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics since 2012 and has logged over 500 volunteer hours in support of patient care. Curious to know what keeps her coming back, we decided to ask.
The following discussion has been edited for length and clarify:
Staff Councilor (SC): What initially motivated you to volunteer?
Jane: Many years ago, one of my good friends, who is a pediatrician, suggested that I would love being a baby cuddler in the NICU. As a single mom with three very young children, that was not the right time for me, but I always kept her suggestion in the back of my mind. When my youngest was in high school, I thought maybe now is the time. Like a lot of others, I have a desire to make a difference. There is a need, I can fulfill some of that need and the only cost to me is time.
SC: What was the onboarding process like?
Jane: There is a lot of care that goes into the initial vetting process. It’s not dissimilar to what new hires at the hospital go through. Early on I met with the incredible Jean Reed, Director of Volunteer Services. I knew I wanted to volunteer in some way, and she gave me a literal binder full of volunteer opportunities. She and I discussed what I would be interested in, and I sampled some of the opportunities. Remembering my friend’s long-ago suggestion, ultimately, I decided to be a baby cuddler, now known as a Developmental Care volunteer. Knowing there was a need, I added a second volunteer role, this one in the SNICU (Surgical and Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit) Family Lounge.
SC: Can you describe what those roles were like for you?
Jane: In the NICU I didn’t have to think much about what to do. A nurse would hand me a baby that needed attention and I would put all my focus on that baby, talking, rocking, singing, reading. The SNICU was the opposite – I had a lot to think about. I volunteered there every Friday evening and was the point person for families and visitors during a traumatic time in their lives. I would manage the lounge by providing information, resources, and messages. There were lots of decisions and problem solving happening and I was the person representing the hospital to all those families.
Later, I served as the NICU community lead and was tasked with training new community volunteers. In addition to training, I also met once a month with the other community leads.
In 2016/2017 there was a mumps outbreak in Iowa City and in an overabundance of caution to support neonatal patient safety, volunteers were transferred to other service sites. I transitioned to volunteering in Pediatrics. Peds was interesting due to the wide age ranges. I had a lot more autonomy as a volunteer; I could walk around the unit and interact with any child that needed attention.
I distinctly remember one 8- or 9-year-old child, who wanted someone to play Minecraft with him. He didn’t care that I didn’t know anything about videogames (much to my sons’ disappointment, I’m sure). I sat next to him, and on my turn, he would do everything for me. On his turn he would then proceed to destroy everything he just made on my behalf. I think we were both relieved when a younger volunteer, with more gaming experience offered to take my place. Beyond video games, there were lots of other things to do with the kids: crafts, board games, talking, … and there were even babies to hold.
After COVID settled down, the NICU was the first service area to return hospital volunteers to on-site service. Data had shown what a positive impact the developmental care volunteers had on the progress of those babies.
SC: How do you prioritize your time to fit your volunteering in?
Jane: Volunteers are asked to commit 3 hours a week. I’m fortunate to have flexibility with my job, and my kids are older. I look at when it works and what the needs are and make it happen. 3 hours really isn’t a lot of time to find in a week. There are volunteer shifts during the day, during the evening, and on the weekend.
SC: What surprised you about volunteering?
Jane: How many different volunteer opportunities were available. It was hard to narrow it down; the options are all so interesting and diverse. There is something for anyone. Also, it surprised me to find how staff and patients go out of their way to make volunteers feel valued, important, and appreciated. I get stopped and thanked on a regular basis.
SC: What encouragement or advice would you give to someone who has been thinking about volunteering but hasn’t made the leap?
Jane: Talk to Jean or any of the staff in Volunteer Services. They are very inspirational and encouraging. Talk to other people who volunteer and just jump in. There are so many things to do, so many tasks to inspire you, some working directly with patients or visitors, some behind the scenes – really something for everyone. Volunteering is rewarding. It pulls you out of yourself and provides perspective.
Thank you to Jane and all the other amazing volunteers out there who make the world a better place! If you, or someone you know, is interested in volunteering at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics check out the Volunteer Services website. Everything you need to know about getting started is there and preregistration is now open.