REED CITY — For many, it was a kindness paid back. For others, it was remembering a gentle touch, a kind word, a thoughtful reassurance, a softly spoken prayer. It was because someone shared, someone cared. Still others remembered those special someones who were there when they couldn’t be, when a mom was ill, or perhaps a dad was dying, or a child was just so scared.

For whatever reasons they had tucked away in their hearts, volunteers were paying back or paying forward in the past year to the tune of 4,747 hours this past year, putting in approximately 1,000 hours more this year over last.

These were the volunteers honored at the 3rd Annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner last Wednesday, at Spectrum Hospital in Reed City.

Although 30 attended, there were nearly twice that many unable to be there, according to Christie Carlson, of Fund Development and Volunteer Services.

Carlson referred to those in attendance as “an army of volunteers,” and asked that they share how it was they became a part of the team. As the voices made their way around the room, it was obvious that for the most part, they really were people who knew from personal experience what it means to have someone walk beside you when the going is a bit rough or a lot scary.

Many of the volunteers are working in Crossroads Radiation Center and in the Infusion Therapy building, offering assurance and courage, faith and hope, to those battling cancer. More than one said, “I want them to know they are not alone. I had cancer too.” In some cases, the message was, “I have cancer too.”

For others, it was acknowledging that they never realized how much just having someone to talk really meant, until they themselves felt they were all alone.

Some of the volunteers work in offices in the hospital, others in surgical wings, still others bring in Therapy Dogs, some drive patients to appointments in cities far away when need be, and still others sit and work puzzles with them or read to those who no longer can.

There were many teary eyes around that table during and after dinner. Hugs were dessert. Making new acquaintances, renewing old ones when paths don’t cross as often as they once did, and sharing lives and laughter with one another, just as they do with those they reach out to through their volunteering.

Some sing, others sit by bedsides and hold the hands of strangers when need be, until someone else arrives, or every day and many times some days when there is no one left to come.

When it was time for Sam Daugherty to address the group, he said that at the current time he is “running two hospitals, Big Rapids and Reed City,” and he focused on the future of both and how the two will complement one another and the spectrum of Spectrum as a whole.

He said while Spectrum Reed City Campus has established itself with state of the art facilities in both the infusion therapy unit and Crossroads Radiation, even more will be done in the future to make those even more efficient and closer in proximity. He noted that the birthing center in Big Rapids is a wonderful unit, and there is not a need to duplicate that facility in Reed City, but rather to increase accessibility for those here who could also benefit by access to it as well.

As the evening went on verbal pats on the back were passed on not only around the table, but by volunteers and staff on hand mentioning other incidents throughout the hospital(s) where volunteers, “just plain people, or staff have made the difference in someone’s life because of a word said or left unsaid, or the encouragement of knowing, too, what it is like to struggle, to be in pain, to need a word of hope or comfort.

It was noted that some people volunteer to make quilts for patients, for those coming to the emergency room, or for anyone who needs a bit of comfort. There had been 12,000 visits to ER last year, and already more than 16,000 this year.

The volunteers are there to greet, make calls, reassure, and be that hand to hold when need be. One volunteer summed it up for many, saying that at Crossroads Radiation, “the heart over there is bigger than the building.” Many wiped tears from their own eyes, remembering when. Passing it forward or giving it back now.