Vegas People and Jobs: Volunteering for Brain Health
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Every person in Las Vegas has a story. My neighbor, Mary Franks, has one.
About a year ago, a relative was showing signs of memory loss. Franks didn’t know much about the causes of memory loss and went to the Internet. In the process, she learned about the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
The Ruvo Center, providing continuing care for patients with cognitive disorders and support for their family members, would be accepting its first patients a month later. The Ruvo Center was in need of volunteers, said its website, so Mary signed on. She was in the Ruvo Center’s first volunteer orientation class.
Today, Franks volunteers at the center one day a week. Some days, when she works the reception desk, Franks is the face of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center the Brain Health, the first person a new patient or a patient’s caregiver meets at the center.
Franks is not alone. In the past year, some 100 Las Vegans have gone through volunteer orientation at the Ruvo Center. Because of vacations, illness or “snowbird” lifestyles, at any one time, some 50 to 60 volunteers are part of the volunteer schedule. They do everything from manning the front desk, producing the Ruvo Center newsletter, handling office tasks, volunteering for special events, staffing the lending library and, in fact, scheduling some of their own volunteer assignments.
The majority of volunteer assignments are for one day a week and for only three to four hours, though that can vary. In the first quarter of 2010, the Ruvo Center benefited from more than 1600 hours of “free” help from the blue-shirted volunteers.
Many of the volunteers are retired Las Vegans, though all ages are represented. This summer, a number of student volunteers will also be part of the team.
Director of Volunteer Services Dee King notes that most of the volunteers, like Larry Ruvo, the man who inspired and worked to establish the center named for his father, have a very personal reason to be involved.
Lorraine Ujifusa, a New Yorker who formerly worked in property management, notes that she volunteers to “give back” to the community because brain disease is in her family. Ruth Rogers, a retired teacher, has an even closer connection; she has been diagnosed with a very mild form of Parkinson’s disease. “I’m all right,” she says, “but I want to help others who aren’t so fortunate”. Barbara Briscoe is a semi-retired nurse who would love to be involved in an area where research is conducted. In the meantime, she takes on other volunteer assignments. Her whole career has been in helping people so volunteering is a “wonderful way” to help.
Ask the volunteers why, in addition to helping others, they enjoy volunteering at the Ruvo Center and they will say things like “the Ruvo Center’s work is very important,” “you make good friends volunteering,” and “this is a great place to be, light and airy, not depressing at all”.
The interior beauty of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health may be surprising to some, considering that the much photographed face of the center is an “unusual” swirling mass of Frank Gehry-designed stainless steel. Yet Gehry’s many windows (each a different dimension) add light throughout the Life Activity Center and the medical offices. The building’s stunning pieces of artwork, loaned to the Ruvo Center on consignment (all are for sale), are worth a visit in themselves.
Although currently the public cannot wander through the Ruvo Center without an escort (volunteers accompany every patient to their doctor’s office and stay with the patient until he or she is called), at some future time, King says, docents and public tours are on the agenda.
The future may also include workshops for scrapbookers who want to save memories for their loved ones, something King says “we’re working on”. Keeping memories alive via scrapbooking would be in addition to current programming which includes special lunch and learn workshops and caregiver support groups.
One currently under-used service available to the public is the center’s lending library with books on brain diseases and caregiving. On the day this reporter visited, Anne Menzel was the volunteer stationed in the library. She noted she has been a friend of Larry Ruvo’s from the first dinner when he discussed the center concept. Her interest, too, was personal. Both her parents had Alzheimer’s disease, and Menzel was a caregiver for both. Her understanding of “when 80-year-olds can become toddlers” is heartfelt. That day, Menzel had answered a phone call from a nurse in Ohio who was establishing classes in how to handle patients with brain diseases. The nurse needed reference material; Menzel provided a recommended reading list. That day, the volunteer librarian in Las Vegas was doing her job cross country.