Why I Volunteer: 3 IU Health Employees Explain

Tis the season for volunteering and Operation Winter Ready is a great way for Indiana University Health employees to consider giving back.

“Operation Winter Ready is a project that we’ve been involved in for four years,” explains Rebecca Fox, an engagement project manager in IU Health’s community outreach and engagement sector. “Each year, our volunteers pack up around 1,000 kits for the homeless which include items like blankets, hats, gloves, socks, and hand warmers. This year, we’re also adding in a toiletry kit that will contain things like a toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick and reusable plastic cutlery.”

From there, Fox explains, the supplies will go to the Blended Street Outreach team. “This is a group that has members from various organizations that serve the population of homeless people in Indianapolis. IMPD will have some for their homeless unit, for instance, and this year some are going to EMTs, too, so ambulances will have a couple of kits, as well. Indiana University Health also works with Indy’s Public Safety Foundation on this project.”

But how did Operation Winter Ready originally get started?

“Indiana University Health’s Methodist Hospital sees many of Indy’s homeless population,” explains Dane Nutty, executive director of Indy Public Safety Foundation, partner on the project. “Their emergency department staff began to see homeless patients with varying levels of cold-weather ailments, such as frostbit and hypothermia. In order to provide a valuable resource for our homeless community and to assist the hospital staff in preventing some of these visits, we helped established Operation Winter Ready. The timing was incredibly appropriate given that during the winter of 2014, Indiana experienced one of the coldest winters in recent history.”

Wondering why employees get involved? Here, three IU Health team members explain.

My name is Patrice McKnight. I work as a cardiovascular technologist in the electrophysiology department at IU Health’s Methodist Hospital. I’ve worked at IU Health for two and a half years. I signed up to take part in Operation Winter Ready this year because of my passion for helping and giving back. My theory is: If you are capable of helping others in a time of need, then try to help them. I believe that I have been blessed in my life, and so I feel the need to pay it forward. The reality is that everyone falls on hard times, and I think that when you have someone in your corner that is willing to help, it makes life a little easier.

My name is Lanessa Austin and I am a family support specialist with the HealthNet Healthy Families program through IU Health. Through this program, families receive free and voluntary home health visits beginning prenatally or after birth. I’ve been in my role for over a year. As a family support worker, we visit homes at least once a week for up to three years to help establish support systems and enhance positive parent-child interaction. Working in the community has enabled me to see firsthand the challenges families face. A lot of families are grappling with unemployment, homelessness, poor health, domestic violence, limited education, little food, no transportation, etc. Growing up, my mother volunteered in the community and she took me and my siblings to with her where she went.  As a parent of two girls, I now show them by example that giving back is not only the right thing to do, but helps others and the community. It is truly a blessing to just be able to hear that a smile, hug, king word or a helping hand made someone’s day a little brighter.  This is why I volunteer, I want to help make a difference. 

My name is Cindy Henson and I’ve worked for IU Health for 10 years. Currently, I work in the cafeteria at Riley Hospital for Children where I’m the team lead in the cash department. I signed up to volunteer for this particular opportunity due to its location (it’s right across the street from where I work) and because there are several homeless people in Indianapolis that are currently in need of supplies. I know this because I see them every day when I drive in to work. I know the role I personally play in the Winter Ready process is a small one, but I wanted to help these people–especially with winter coming soon. I can’t imagine what they must go through on a daily basis but hopefully the items that we pack will help these folks stay warm and make them more aware that people really do care in the world.

— By Sarah Burns