Back to articles

Helping Hands: Volunteers Enhance the Patient Experience at HMH


Willits, CA – At Frank Howard Memorial Hospital (HMH), there’s a group of caring individuals who don’t get paid for what they do, yet they play an important role in the day-to-day operations of the hospital. And there’s no better time to celebrate them than on National Volunteer Month. 

“Members of the Howard Hospital Auxiliary volunteers are often the first and last impression patients get when they come to HMH,” says Becky Hope, volunteer services manager and Planetree coordinator. 

In addition to greeting visitors, helping patients find their way and helping at the newly opened gift shop, members of the auxiliary have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for equipment and supplies. “Our volunteers allow our clinical staff to focus on patient care by relieving them of various administrative tasks.” 

“More importantly, volunteers spend time sitting with patients, playing games, reading books or sometimes just talking to patients. It’s those little things that make a big impact on our patients and their families. I don’t know what we’d do without our volunteers,” Hope explains. 

When it comes to donating time and talent to the hospital, Saundra Barrera is at the top of the list. Barrera has been volunteering at HMH since January 1999, contributing a record 5000 hours to HMH.

After retiring from her career as an administrative assistant for a fence company, she moved with her husband from the Bay Area to Willits in 1998, where they intended to spend their golden years enjoying the outdoors. 

Barrera quickly discovered, however, that she wasn’t cut out for a life of idle pleasure. “I was bored. I had too much time on my hands. I was looking for something to do when I met this lady at the park one day. She was a long-time volunteer at HMH and she told me about volunteering at the hospital.” 

Many years later, Barrera says she still loves what she does at HMH. On Tuesdays, she spends her time at the newly opened auxiliary-run gift shop. On other days, she is asked to help out for events such as during lunches for hip and knee replacement patients. 

“There’s no other place in Willits that carries the items we sell at the gift shop,” Barrera said. “We get a lot of people from the community coming in just to shop and to eat at the restaurant.” 

Sheila Gray is another local who finds joy in her “after retirement job”. Also a volunteer in the hospital’s gift shop, Gray says she loves helping people find the perfect gift. 

“It’s a great place to find gifts whether it’s for holidays, birthdays or just to cheer someone up who’s in the hospital,” Gray said. “We have a bit of everything in here — unique jewelry, pottery, purses, scarves — you name it.”

Gray says the gift shop is stocked with items from local businesses too, and that’s by design. “We have such great connection to the community. We have great talent here and we want to encourage people to shop local and expose them to great products they never thought are available locally,” she shares.

Money raised by the gift shop is used at the hospital to fill unmet needs. Last year, they raised $10,000 for the purchase of a Gram Stainer, a vital equipment for the laboratory.

Gwen Markson, one of the newer members of the auxiliary is tasked with bringing comfort to patients and employees with her cart filled with tea, biscotti and other goodies. “Our employees spend their day caring for others, and this is our way of caring for them. They look forward to it and truly appreciate it.”

Beyond the time she spends at the hospital, Barrera says being a member of the auxiliary has brought other rewards. “I have met the most wonderful people here that have become great friends over the years. After 17 years, everyone here feels like they’re my family,” Barrera says. “I can’t imagine my life if I wasn’t volunteering here. It keeps me young physically and mentally.”

Gray agrees. “The best part about volunteering here is knowing that we are making a difference in the community. They come here during their time of need, and it helps a lot when they see someone they know,” shares Gray.  

Hope says volunteers are a vital part of the hospital especially when it comes to delivering patient-centered care. “We pride ourselves in providing a family atmosphere and our volunteers are so important in helping us achieve that goal. It makes a difference when they see a familiar face the moment they come through our doors. It’s great when someone they know can comfort them when they are anxious. Our volunteers truly add to that healing experience.” 

HMH has about 50 auxiliary volunteers who perform a variety of tasks in the hospital. This year, they contributed a total of 6400 hours to the hospital. As part of national volunteer month and to celebrate their contributions, HMH volunteers will be celebrated at a luncheon. To join the auxiliary, contact Becky Hope at (707)-456-3245.

The gift shop, located at 1 Marcela Drive, is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. 


Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital is part of Adventist Health, a faith-based, not-for-profit integrated health care delivery system serving communities in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Our workforce of 28,600 includes more than 20,500 employees; 4,500 medical staff physicians; and 3,600 volunteers. Founded on Seventh-day Adventist health values, Adventist Health provides compassionate care in 19 hospitals, more than 220 clinics (hospital-based, rural health and physician clinics), 14 home care agencies, seven hospice agencies and four joint-venture retirement centers. We invite you to visit for more information.