Volunteers are the heart of CHOP’s family-centered care. A $5 million gift from The Wawa Foundation is making them a veritable army of people doing good deeds.

Volunteer Joe Glace entertains a patient Volunteer Joe Glace entertains a patient in the Buerger Center. The sun is streaming through the tall windows of the Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care located on the Raymond G. Perelman Campus, and Joe Glace is walking across the airy lobby of this newest CHOP facility at a fast clip. His mission: to be helpful. His arena: nearly every corner of the Hospital. He reaches into his pocket and, with a wry smile, says, “These are some of the most important tools of the trade.” He opens his hand to reveal packets of colorful cartoon stickers.

Hospitality volunteers like Glace greet and escort families, get needed resources to staff members, find activities for children waiting for appointments and generally spread goodwill. They’re one squad in a team of volunteers, some at bedsides, others in playrooms, who elevate the CHOP experience and make it run smoother for patients and families.

And now, thanks to a partnership between The Wawa Foundation and CHOP that includes a $5 million gift, the newly named Wawa Volunteer Services at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is significantly expanding. The generous gift means more volunteers can be deployed in new and innovative ways to further assist patients’ families.

On this morning, Glace is the picture of affability. Knowing that the Sedation Unit needs a regular supply of wheelchairs, he locates one and drops it off. The nurse behind the desk smiles and calls out, “You must have read my mind!” Back at the elevators, Glace spots a family laden with bags and immediately asks, “Need any help?” They’re wondering how to get to the parking garage. Next Glace crosses the glass-enclosed bridge to the Main Building. There, he notices a woman holding a child’s hand and saying into her cellphone, “We’re on our way to the Urology Department.” Glace stops short. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he says, his face beaming, “but Urology is the other way.” She thanks him profusely.

Elsewhere in the Main Building, volunteers Nancy Wood and Wendy Studner are spending the morning making rounds with the Wawa Coffee & Care Cart, which is stocked with complimentary hot and cold Wawa beverages to give to parents keeping watch over their children. Sprightly in jeans and silver sneakers, her apron’s pockets filled with creamers and sugar packets, Wood softly knocks on patients’ doors while Studner dispenses coffee from three large carafes. Both women have been manning the Wawa Coffee & Care Cart once a month for more than 15 years.

At one point a couple from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus emerge from a hushed room to receive hot chocolates. “This is a great idea,” the woman says, looking appreciatively at the two volunteers.

“People hug me,” says Wood. “I’ve had people run after me.” That’s exactly what happens a few minutes later when Glen Valdata, a father of a patient, hurries down the hall to ask for coffee. He’s familiar with the cart. “I’ve been here a month, unfortunately,” he says. “We live near a Wawa. I like their coffee.” He takes a sip. “It’s nice to have something here that feels close to home.”

Making a profound impact

Under the leadership of the Wood family, Wawa has partnered with CHOP to provide hope and comfort to patients and families across the entire CHOP community for more than 160 years. Wawa has raised more than $3 million to support Child Life programs; established the Wawa Endowed Chair in International Adoption; given charitable grants to fund HIV/AIDS programs; and donated products vital to the Hospital’s clinical programs.

At the heart of CHOP’s mission is its commitment to family-centered care: An emphasis on serving not only the patient, but also his or her entire family. CHOP’s volunteers embody that spirit of broad compassion. Last year, approximately 500 volunteers delivered more than 30,000 hours of service.

“Our vision for The Wawa Foundation is about connecting with communities on a deeper level,” says Wawa President and CEO Chris Gheysens. “Supporting the mission of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is part of our history, and we are delighted to extend that support to include an innovative volunteer program that reflects our purpose and enables us to serve others in such a meaningful way. This is a proud moment for The Wawa Foundation and everyone at Wawa.”

The $5 million gift enables Wawa Volunteer Services to have a profound impact at CHOP. “Our goal is 1,000 volunteers,” says Elana Brewer, senior director of Child Life Programs and Volunteer Services. She rapidly lists what’s being developed. There are plans for an expanded hospitality and wayfinding corps, ideally with “bellhops” assisting discharged families with their accumulated possessions; adding volunteers at CHOP Care Network locations such as the Specialty Care and Ambulatory Surgery Center in King of Prussia; multiple Wawa Coffee & Care Carts; and a newly constructed Wawa Volunteer Center, opening in the Buerger Center this summer and featuring a roomy kitchen (the current kitchenette in the volunteer office barely fits one cart and two people stocking it). “I’d love it if within 24 hours of arriving, every patient has a volunteer visit the room to give them an orientation of everything available to them,” says Brewer.

Stefanie Groff, the Wawa volunteer manager, elaborates on the possibilities. She envisions three carts going out three times a day, seven days a week. She sees The Wawa Foundation’s grant as an invaluable way to fill specific needs: “We can recruit volunteers with specialized skills and experiences that match our patients and families.” Groff is especially passionate about formalizing an employee volunteer program: “I’d like to have one button on the employee intranet that says ‘Sign up to volunteer.’”

Mitch Appleson, director of clinical trials financial management at CHOP, eloquently describes the rewards of being a volunteer. Once a month, he and a few of his team members make the rounds with the Wawa Coffee & Care Cart. “My regular day job does not entail interacting with patients,” says Appleson. “A walk through the
Hospital and volunteering helps remind us of how our work connects us to the Hospital’s mission. A regular part of our jobs, such as a simple document, might be a pathway to someone receiving lifesaving medication or care.”

Wawa is an especially good fit with CHOP’s volunteers given the company’s strength in customer service and its positive reputation in the community. Groff fondly recalls going to Wawa with her friends when she was growing up in Stroudsburg, PA. “The fact that they’re the named brand for the volunteers at CHOP, a place I already love, I couldn’t be more proud,” she says.

“We’re thrilled to build on our relationship with Wawa and extremely grateful for The Wawa Foundation’s generous gift to support our volunteers, who are the backbone of our family-centered-care approach,” says Chad Hough, senior vice president of Clinical Support Services. “The partnership between CHOP and The Wawa Foundation will truly make a difference for our patients.”

A meaningful motivation

A retired risk manager and certified public accountant, Glace volunteers at CHOP two or three days a week, crisscrossing between units and floors to go where he’s needed. At the end of today’s four-hour shift, the Fitbit he wears indicates he has taken 12,108 steps. For every person he encounters while taking those steps, he has the potential to make their time in the Hospital a little bit easier.

Why did Glace choose CHOP as the place where he gives his time? “It was a no-brainer,” he says. In 2004 at the age of 10, his youngest daughter was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and spent 69 days at CHOP. She’s now a senior nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania. Taking a short break in the Buerger Center’s lobby, Glace points to a list of donors etched on the walkway above. “Her name is on that panel right there,” he explains. “If you have a choice of where to spend a day, I can’t think of a better place to be.”

For information about how to join CHOP’s Wawa Volunteer Services, email volunteers@email.chop.edu.