Paid to volunteer? MidMichigan Health’s policy unites employees and nonprofits to benefit community

It can be said that the COVID-19 pandemic has divided people in many ways; however, some may contend that it has united people even more. When you look at the nonprofit agencies in Isabella County, the latter certainly rings true. While there were collaborations between agencies pre-pandemic, the pandemic made it a necessity for everyone to work together to ensure the needs of those in the community were met. Collaborations such as the one between IRide and The Care Store to deliver boxes of food to those in need were imperative.

In most communities, an organization paying its employees to go volunteer would be unusual. However, in a community made up of people and organizations that so willingly come together for the good of all, MidMichigan Health’s new community service policy is quite fitting.

“In October of 2020, we implemented a community service time policy which granted full-time and part-time employees paid time to volunteer in the community with any nonprofit of their choice,” says Ashley Brenner, Community Health Supervisor for MidMichigan Medical Centers – Mt. Pleasant, Gratiot, and Clare.

Brenner explains that the launch of this new policy coincided with the implementation of a new purpose statement: Creating Healthy Communities - Together.

Brenner says this purpose statement and the community service policy are crucial in MidMichigan Health’s effort to create a healthier community, because the health of a community doesn’t depend solely on the work of the local medical facility. It’s impacted by accessible food, transportation, housing, and other factors.

“We can’t impact those alone. We need to partner with different community agencies to impact change. Maybe those areas are their expertise,” Brenner says. “If we can partner with them on volunteerism, we can make a larger impact on the health of the community.”

Jennifer Marar, Director of Operations at MidMichigan Medical Center – Mt. Pleasant, says she was incredibly excited about the new purpose statement and the community service policy for many reasons, including the impact it would have on the community as a whole.

“The policy enabled people to really bring to light work that's being done - both on and off the job. It helps us create stronger connections with those partners in the community who have similar interests, and who are committed to developing our communities into healthy places to live, because that's what creates thriving communities on all levels.”

Ashley Brenner, Community Health Supervisor for MidMichigan Medical Centers – Mt. Pleasant, Gratiot, and Clare, volunteers during the Harrison Street Fair and talks with a young boy playing “Operation” at MidMichigan Health’s booth.

For employees like Carisa Perkins, Medical Assistant at MidMichigan Medical Center Mt. Pleasant, getting connected to volunteer opportunities through work has opened new doors in the community.

Volunteering has always been something I've been very interested in, but never really knew how to get involved in,” Perkins says. “When MidMichigan started doing this, especially now that we have paid time off for volunteering, it was very exciting because I could do it with people that I knew and it was very easy for me to find opportunities to volunteer.”

Perkins helps organize United Way’s Fill-A-Mayflower effort at MidMichigan Health; however, she didn’t just start doing this when the community service policy was implemented – in fact, she’s been involved in this effort for three years. She says she’s found a variety of benefits to being involved in this.

Of course, there’s the benefit it provides to the community. Perkins says that MidMichigan Health used to weigh the non-perishables that were collected to see how much had been donated and analyze if they had done “better” than the year before. However, once it became a Corporate Charity Championship, a points system was implemented to measure what was collected.

“I cannot tell you how amazed I am every year of how we overcome our goal,” Perkins says. “In 2019, we were still weighing, but we had 914 pounds of non-perishables, and we raised $350.00 on top of that. Last year, based on a points system, we had 2,937 points. So, with items as points, we had almost doubled what we did the year before, which is amazing to me that we were able to do that.”

Perkins says the benefit of participating in the Fill-A-Mayflower effort extends into the workplace, too.

“I feel like that has been a really good opportunity for me to get to know people outside of my little area here in the office I work at,” she says.

She adds that it even has boosted the teamwork among the various departments.

“We have our trophy up and, last year, we had put this picture out of us with our trophy when we did our delivery, so I feel like having a goal makes everybody want to get involved,” she says.

Kids play “Operation” at MidMichigan Health’s booth during the Harrison Street Fair.

Russ Kamyszek, Manager of Diagnostic Imaging at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot, has been involved with the United Way campaign as well as food distributions and says he too has felt the camaraderie that comes from volunteering as a team. He says it poured rain during one food distribution event, creating a lasting memory for the volunteers.

“That was some of the most fun I’ve had at work. We were all soaked, handing out food together,” he says. “A lot of times the people that I see in the hallway are people that I’ve seen doing food distributions alongside, and it creates a bond. It helps the organization. It helps the community. It helps build relationships.”

While there are a variety of benefits of this policy for the employees of MidMichigan Health and the community as a whole, it also benefits the patients of MidMichigan Health. When employees are in the community volunteering, they are able to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the various resources available for those in need so they can then share that knowledge with patients who come into the medical facility.

“I feel like when we have different volunteer opportunities through work, through MidMichigan, we are able to turn around and - if patients do need help - we know how to help them,” says Perkins. “Now we can say, ‘You can go here if you need help getting food for you and your family. We do this donation every year. And, here's different people you can get ahold of through United Way to help you with different things.’ Whereas, before I started this, I didn't know quite as many resources as I do now.”

Finally, this policy is allowing health care workers – who give of themselves every day at work – the opportunity to give in a new way, something that is critical at any time but especially during a pandemic.

“A lot of our work is in the long-term, or we don't necessarily see what the results are; whereas, a lot of the staff that get the opportunity to go out and work at the food distributions, for example, they see the people who are receiving the food, they see the smiles, and they hear the ‘thank you,’ and they feel that gratitude. What more of them say is that that really fills their bucket right up. That helps them go back and do their job with more with more gusto, with more vigor,” says Marar. We know that the more we give, the more we get back and so (during the pandemic) it's been really helpful and empowering for a lot of people to step out of their regular jobs where they give to go do it in a different way, and just receive things back differently and it's invigorating to them.”
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Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.