Volunteer Spotlight

We are proud to highlight St. Jude Children's Research Hospital volunteers.

Ernie Albonetti

Ernie Albonetti

Ernie Albonetti began volunteering at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a Eucharistic minister, giving communion to Catholic families and patients throughout the hospital. The Eucharistic Lay Minister volunteer program began in 2002 and soon Ernie became involved in the giving of communion to patients and families. When he started, he had no idea that his time would reward him tenfold.  Through Ernie’s six years, he has found his service to be an extremely gratifying experience.

Ernie has not only found friendship in his time at St. Jude, but has grown spiritually as well. As Ernie shares communion with families, he has become a spiritual guide for many parents, families, and patients. When he began his volunteer work at St. Jude, Ernie was struggling with the idea of becoming more involved in the Catholic Church. Ernie’s service at St. Jude solidified his thoughts and plans for the future.  “My work at St. Jude pushed me over the edge to become a deacon, it carried me to the next level,” says Ernie. Having considered the prospect before, Ernie was able to appreciate the idea after his service at St. Jude. By helping the families at St. Jude through difficult times, Ernie began to understand his larger role in life.

Ernie comments that his time at St. Jude has helped him to “better accept, explain, and try to assist all people dealing with tragedies.” By offering his guidance to St. Jude families, Ernie’s time volunteering has helped him as a deacon to assist others struggling in life. “It becomes a two way street,” says Ernie. “Everything I give to them is returned.”

Through his spiritual journey at St. Jude, Ernie notes that he does the best he can and is thankful for his new perspective on life. “When I leave [St. Jude], and I step into my world, my problems become nothing,” explains Ernie.

Elizabeth Colhoun

Elizabeth Colhoun

“This was a day to forget about cancer and be a princess for the day,” says Target House volunteer Elizabeth Colhoun describing the popular Tea Party event she helped create, which has attracted over 40 participants.

“We had tea in teacups along with yummy cookies, and the children dressed up as their favorite princess. Seeing the joy on the children’s face is something I will never forget,” she adds, describing her favorite memory as a volunteer.

Elizabeth has been a volunteer at Target House for three years, where she heads their monthly craft night and assists in serving dinners and with Camp Wishing Well. Her passion for volunteering does not stop there, as she also gives her time at Make-A-Wish, Ronald McDonald House and through the St. Jude Auxiliary Club.

“I have always known that I wanted to give back in some manner, and children have a special place in my heart,” Elizabeth says. “St. Jude truly makes the children’s best interest their No. 1 priority.”

When Elizabeth is not volunteering, she is urging others to volunteer.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it. You never know whose life you are going to touch, and I can guarantee your own life will be touched by giving your time to the children of St. Jude,” she says.

“This experience has made me more thankful for each day I am given,” she continues. “The children truly give me strength, and their smiles encourage me to face any obstacle in my own life no matter what. They are heroes in my eyes.”

Elizabeth continues to find opportunities to affect others at St. Jude, and her dedication inspires many to make a difference. “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion – for your passion will lead you right into your purpose,” she says.

Kim Louis

Kim Louis

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Beverage Cart and Tour Guide volunteer, and local third grade teacher Kim Louis, was recently recognized as the “Educator of the Week” by WREG News Channel 3. Nominated by her students and parents, Kim was surprised during class by the camera crew. Kim’s huge smile and friendly nature leads her students each day in the classroom. As an educator, she firmly believes that she did not choose to teach, rather teaching choose her.

“I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m happy. I love teaching: it’s my gift,” Kim explains.

Using that gift every day, Kim hopes she is opening her students’ eyes to a greater awareness of the world they live in. By sharing her spirit of volunteerism, Kim teaches her students compassion by example and always reminds them to “give a little bit.”

Kim’s love for teaching is complemented by her true dedication to St. Jude. She brings the same smile and positive energy she uses in the classroom to her shifts at St. Jude.

“Whenever you meet someone, you want it to be as positive as possible; whether that is my third grader’s first day or when I walk into a room at St. Jude,” Kim says.

She spreads her optimistic nature to all she encounters at St. Jude with a warm cup of hot chocolate and her engaging spirit. Choosing to volunteer at St. Jude was an obvious choice for Kim. She tries to ease their worries. “I hope when I walk into the room, that I can bring a smile, make [the patient] feel better – just bring a ray of sunshine.”

Kim truly does bring a warm presence to the halls of St. Jude, making friends with nurses, patients and other volunteers. For Kim the experience is very rewarding, “There’s a whole world outside of my little problems.” 

Patty Stephens

Elizabeth Colhoun

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital volunteers are a crucial support system for the patients and their families. Volunteering provides endless opportunities and experiences; just ask Patty Stephens, she has been volunteering for almost 13 years in the Child Life Department and has loved every minute of it.

"It has been one of the very best decisions I ever made. I have met so many interesting people, made friends that I treasure, and lasting memories that sustain me through difficult times. I am so inspired by the children, families and friends that I have made," expressed Patty. Volunteering at St. Jude has exceeded Patty’s expectations. "I really had no idea how much I would love and learn from my time here," she added.

Patty took an early retirement as a registered nurse and began to miss the atmosphere, so she began volunteering at St. Jude. Patty has also served as president and secretary of the St. Jude Auxiliary and served on their newsletter committee.

Spending a majority of her time in waiting rooms, Patty has made many favorite memories with patients. One particular week she had children from different countries – patients from China, Greece, Latin America, Ukraine and the United States – all in her play area.  "I sometimes play music during my shifts since it lightens the mood and changes the 'vibe' of the place," Patty noted. These children will dance and sing along and get especially excited when they hear a song they recognize. Patty recalls one particular day, the children were sitting around the arts and crafts table when the song "YMCA" came on.  "The children started doing the gestures that went along with the song and singing it even though they could hardly speak English," said Patty.

It's moments like these that inspire Patty to keep volunteering. The benefits are endless for her. She hopes everything she does for the patients makes their day a little easier. "I get so much support and encouragement back from them that I look forward to any time that I get to spend at St. Jude," exclaimed Patty.  "I can’t say enough about what a positive, fulfilling experience volunteering at St. Jude has been for me. I recommend it to anyone. It will have a wonderful impact on your life."

Due to Patty's outstanding dedication to the patients and her commitment to St. Jude and its mission, she was chosen as the 2011 recipient of the Sheryl K. Nienhuis Award, the highest honor given to St. Jude hospital volunteers.

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