On Alice Batson’s volunteer vest is a shiny gold pin with the number 3,000 on it. “That’s actually not right,” she said. “I need to get my pin for 3,500 hours, even though I’m at more like 3,650 now.”
Batson, of Cary, has been a volunteer in the Rex Healthcare Gift Shop for nearly 12 years and has volunteered more than 3,500 hours during that time. What started out as helping a friend put together plant arrangements has blossomed into a fulfilling volunteer position. “Initially I just helped a friend who put together plants for the gift shop,” said Batson. “But then I thought I might like to do it on a regular basis.” And so every Friday, Batson mans the gift shop register at the hospital and offers a friendly face to anyone who enters.
Batson was a CPA and retired in the late 1990s. As she describes it, she had been working “forever,” and once she retired, and her four children had left to raise families of their own, she needed something else to fill her days.
“It seems to me that I would be unhappy being retired and not helping others,” she said. “I had to find something to help with, and I wanted something entirely different (from being a CPA).”
Working in the gift shop was a fun fit for Batson because it was so different from her previous career, she said. “I’d always worked in an office and I didn’t want another office job, but I’d never worked in retail before. I needed a new experience.”
Part of the job that appealed to Batson was being able to interact with the customers.
“We put a big emphasis on customer service,” said Manager Mary Upton. “Alice is great with the people that come into the shop.”
And her favorite customers that come into the shop? The new grandparents.
“The new grandparents are the most enjoyable part of the job,” she said. “I’ll help them pick out flowers, balloons, stuffed toys or sometimes children’s clothes. It’s nice to see them come in so happy and excited. I love them because I can relate since I’m a grandmother.”
“The new fathers are wonderful to work with, too,” she added.
Not everyone that Batson sees is a happy customer, though. “Some aren’t having a happy day. They come into the gift shop to get out of the waiting room,” she said. “I always encourage them to browse because they might find something they like or is comforting. And I’ll listen if they want to talk, but mostly they just want to kill time and have something different to think about.”
In addition to her volunteer work, she is active in her church, First United Methodist Church of Cary, and is a volunteer with the Pilot Club of Cary, a civic organization that focuses on brain-related injuries and disorders.
She has been a volunteer with the Pilot Club for 25 years and currently helps by replacing batteries in the bracelets of people in its Lifesaver program. The Lifesaver program is run in conjunction with the Wake County Sheriff’s Department and provides patients with brain injuries and disorders who have been labeled as wanderers with bracelets to track them.
Her volunteer work keeps her busy, but that’s the way she likes it. And perhaps it’s this dedicated side of her personality that makes her a valuable volunteer.
“We look for someone who is very serious about what they do and looks at their volunteer work like a job,” said Upton, who manages Batson and other volunteers in the gift shop. “Alice is so wonderful because she takes what she does seriously, and she graciously volunteers her time to help train others. She’s really taken on a leadership role, and that’s the kind of dependability we need.”
But Batson added that anyone can be a good volunteer. “Anyone who comes in to apply to be a volunteer has the ability to do so,” she said. “As long as the desire is there, volunteer work takes all types. The common thread among all of us is the desire to help.
“In almost everything we do we have make an impression on other people. Few things in life are just for yourself. I like to live by the general rule that you help your neighbor. I think it gives you purpose in life.”