`A professional volunteer' finds niche at North Arundel Hospital


March 14, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIALTO THE SUN

YOU MIGHT THINK that Betty Wilkes earns a salary and, maybe, receives a benefit or two for managing a thriving gift shop. But for all the long hours the Severna Park woman puts into traveling to meet wholesalers, training her staff and simply minding the store, she isn't paid a penny.

But she doesn't mind.

For six years, Wilkes has been the volunteer manager of the gift shop at North Arundel Hospital, a job that she says offers her more than a paycheck ever could.

Turning on her bright smile, Wilkes said, "I don't think I'd ever do this for a living, but, at least if I'm a volunteer and I goof, I'd be forgiven."

One thing is certain: No one's going to ask this volunteer to turn in her pink smock.

"What can I say about Betty?" said June Clarridge, president of the North Arundel Hospital auxiliary, the hospital's volunteer support organization. "She does a magnificent job. She keeps the shop running like a little business."

For nearly 15 years, Wilkes, 63, has been a familiar presence in the hospital, from her first volunteer job delivering mail to patients to working in the business office. About six years ago, she switched to the gift shop.

She has been a Sunday school teacher and president of a women's group at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Glen Burnie. In a busy week at the hospital gift shop, she works as many as 20 hours.

"She's a professional volunteer," said her husband, Bob Wilkes. "Anything needs to be done, Betty will do it."

She persuaded her husband to volunteer when he retired from his job as an insurance agent. He's in charge of the shop's magazine display.

Betty Wilkes takes two business trips a year to regional retail shows to search for ceramics, greeting cards, coloring books and other items to stock the shop. In less time than it takes to pick an outfit for the day, she decides what people will buy six months down the road at the hospital store.

In July, she's expected to predict the products that will be hot sellers at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In January, she's thinking about Easter and the Fourth of July.

"The former buyer told me you should always buy what you really like and think will sell, and then buy a few things you think won't sell," Wilkes said. "And it's been true.

"The vendors that come into the shop usually know best. They say, `Try it,' and most of the time they haven't led me too far astray," she said.

Mary Carrick, another volunteer at the shop, buys jewelry for the store.

The shop is the hospital auxiliary's primary source of income. It's an enterprise that couldn't be more important to a hospital that is building a cancer center. The auxiliary has pledged half a million dollars to the project, and last year the shop donated $80,000, Wilkes said.

About 175 members volunteer, Wilkes said. New members are found by word of mouth. People who've seen friends or family receive good care in the hospital want to give something back, she said.

"We tell prospective volunteers what we have to offer," Wilkes said. "We say, `Pick a job, and if you don't like it, pick another.'"

Wilkes said there are many interesting assignments, such as working at the information desk or in the gift shop or the emergency room, where volunteers act as liaisons between families and patients.

More and more people are volunteering, Wilkes said.

"Maybe it's the turn of the tide," she said. "People are willing to give of themselves."

"Running the shop is a challenge that I've enjoyed, and I've learned a lot," said Wilkes a past president of the auxiliary.

"Knowing that I'm working with such a nice bunch of people and meeting new people all the time keeps your brain waves flowing," she said.

The gift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Weekend hours vary. Information: 410-787-4504.

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