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December 19, 2014

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Volunteering at the Ruvo Center: How to lend a hand — and a heart

Within the architectural exclamation point of a building that is the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, there are world-renowned doctors, acclaimed researchers and expert therapists.

But the distinguished research and treatment center in downtown Las Vegas would not run properly, nor would it be able to meet its own high standards for patient care, without its dedicated team of volunteers.

The volunteer program is built around service, and training for participants is based on a Four Seasons model for service.

Volunteer program director Dee King looks for people who, most of all, simply “want to be there for someone else.”

When Ruvo Center founder Larry Ruvo started work on the clinic, one point of emphasis was creating a tranquil, calming environment for patients. The volunteers are integral to that process.

"Our volunteers are vitally important," Ruvo said. "They staff our library, greet our patients, give tours and serve as our ambassadors, speaking to groups all over the valley and building awareness for the center. They come from all different backgrounds. ... Some are patients, some are spouses and family members of patients, and many are just great people with big hearts who just want to make a difference."

The volunteer force is always growing, and King said she is always exploring new programs and ways in which volunteers can contribute to the center.

In the coming year, King said she would like to increase the number of tours given to local school children, who currently come a few times a year to learn about the work at the center as well as healthy choices they can make in their own lives.

Here's a look at the volunteer corps and a few of the ways individuals can get involved with the center.

    • By the numbers



      There are about 140 volunteers at the Ruvo Center — including Jan Shaw, left, and Barbara Briscoe — and the clinic is always looking for more. Many of the volunteers are retired and are gone for much of the summer. Right now the center relies on a “core” of about 70 volunteers, King said.

    • Becoming a volunteer



      Ruvo Center patient Jerry Wilson and his wife, Mamie, prepare to leave the clinic after getting a flower from volunteer Lydia Woltag, center.

      Members of the volunteer staff range in age from 16 to 87. There are more than a dozen positions a volunteer can hold, and special volunteer programs can be developed for those with a particular interest or skill set.

      There is a multi-step process for becoming a volunteer.

      First, there is an application to fill out and a background check. Next, every volunteer must attend a half-day orientation, during which they are schooled on the safety precautions and procedures to use with patients and given primers on the diseases treated at the center. Orientations are conducted about once every three months once there are enough applicants signed up.

      Finally, each volunteer will have a one-on-one interview with a staff member before being placed in a position.

    • What they do



      Volunteers assist in numerous facets of the clinic’s services, from greeting and escorting patients to community outreach to operating the lending library. Some volunteers even work from home on such tasks as scheduling, editing the newsletter and making calls.

      The volunteers program also includes interns, who work in various departments at the center. Some volunteers assist in the physical therapy department, shown here, keeping patients company and helping with equipment.

    • Who volunteers?



      Some of the volunteers also are patients or caregivers, and many already have experience in caring for the sick. All of them held the desire to give some of their time to make someone’s day a little easier.

      Lydia Woltag, 66, shown here, is both a volunteer and a patient receiving treatment for multiple sclerosis.

      Registered nurse Jan Shaw said she was at the World Market Center one day when she noticed the building and decided to see what went on inside. She liked the model set up for volunteering and decided to join.

      Now, the volunteer program is self-populating in that volunteers who conduct community outreach often end up recruiting more volunteers.

      Best friends Sharon Tyson and Judy Emley offered to volunteer after attending a presentation about the center at their church.

      “Volunteers are different from those who get paid. Volunteers want to be here for no other reason than to help,” Emley said. “We want the patients to enjoy being here as much as possible.”

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