Beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder, but Dave Cole just didn’t like what he saw while delivering food to volunteers staffing Mountain View’s Grant Road RotaCare Clinic. Patients waiting for medical treatment were sick enough without having dull and dreary furniture surrounding them, Cole thought.
“There was this black, old tapestry … dark, dingy material,” Cole said. “(The patients) don’t feel well, anyway. I thought, ‘I can fix it.’”
As the owner of Sterling Custom Upholstery in Mountain View and facing a seasonal slowdown in his shop at the beginning of March, Cole said the timing was perfect to offer his services to spruce up the clinic’s waiting room.
But when Cole approached the clinic’s director, Cheryl Canning, she told him there were no funds to cover the costs. Canning admitted the furniture wasn’t appealing, but it was functional and free.
“El Camino Hospital had donated it to us from furniture they had stored in their basement,” Canning said.
“She thought I was just drumming up business,” Cole said.
In fact, Cole offered to donate everything – labor and materials.
The hospital provides the clinic space in the Park Pavilion below the El Camino YMCA and additional funding for medical treatments.
Cole chose several swatches with El Camino’s new blue-and-orange logo in mind for Canning’s approval, then removed several pieces of the tattered furniture.
During the next three weeks, Cole and his employees stripped the pieces to the frames and overhauled. Cole was impressed with its underlying quality.
“I like to work with the wood – to think of working on something that someone worked on long ago,” he said.
Cole returned the furniture, restuffed, reupholstered and the wood refinished.
“It looks like someone custom-ordered it for the new hospital,” Cole said of the navy-blue and rust-colored fabrics. “It has a nice ‘wow’ factor.”
Cole isn’t the only one proud of the new look.
“It was just like new,” Canning said. “I cannot tell you what a difference it makes. It has brightened our entire clinic.”
Cole isn’t only responsible for brightening the clinic. As a longtime member of Rotary Club of Mountain View, and its past president in 1993-1994, Cole was instrumental in spearheading the movement to establish a local RotaCare Clinic, which began operation in 1996 at St. Athanasius Church on Rengstorff Avenue with grant donations from regional and national Rotary clubs and a matching donation from the El Camino Hospital Foundation.
“It’s amazing how a geometric progression can take place,” Cole said.
Cole is guided by Rotary’s four-way test, principles that Rotarians ask themselves of what they think, say or do: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? and Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
“It’s such a magnificent, giving place,” he said. “Everything that makes RotaCare work is the volunteers. The doctors are the heroes.”
But doctors aren’t the only heroes at the clinic. From rallying community support to painting hallways, donating fabrics for patient partitions and delivering meals, Cole has always found a way to give.
“Whatever we needed, I knew I could always go to Dave and he would find a way to get it done,” Canning said. “That’s the kind of remarkable and caring person he is. In my book, he’s a true hero.”
Service before self
In applying the Rotary Club’s overall goals of establishing fellowship and service before self, Bay Area Rotarians identified the need more than 20 years ago to offer medical care service to those who can least afford it and need it most – “the working poor,” Cole said.
Today, RotaCare Clinic has nine sites in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas, relying on volunteer physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, interpreters and others who provide free medical care to the medically underserved. The clinics depend on funding from Rotary Clubs, hospitals, clinics, community and social-service organizations and service groups.
What makes Cole’s sacrifice of service before self truly heroic are the medical issues he has faced personally – doctors found cancer in his lymph nodes after discovering a bronchial clavical cyst in January.
Following cancer treatments and antibiotic therapies for pick-line and stomach infections, dropping 50 pounds and unable to swallow, Cole mustered up the strength to focus on RotaCare’s revamp, although he relied on Sterling’s front-office assistant, Michelle Curyea, to keep the business going.
“Thank goodness Michelle was here to do it,” he said.
And when Cole’s project for the waiting room was completed and Canning tried to thank him, she said he thanked her for keeping him and his workers busy during a slow time. Canning said it was just like Cole to go above and beyond for someone else when his own health required attention.
“I get tears in my eyes and a catch in my throat just thinking about it,” Canning wrote to Cole in a thank-you letter.
Cole estimated his donation totaled between $4,000 and $5,000 – “that’s just a guess” – but is probably worth much more to him.
“I didn’t do it to get that big accolade,” he said. “This was a labor of love for everyone in my shop.”
With radiation and chemotherapy treatments behind him, Cole said he continues to participate in Rotary activities that foster fellowship and service before self.
“It’s just Rotary’s way – it just gets done,” he said. “They’ll wipe out polio in the world.”
Eradicating polio is one of Rotary International’s priorities, which include expanding global membership and optimizing leadership talent within the organization.
When Cole walks into the RotaCare Clinic to deliver donated meals to doctors and other volunteers, he keeps his eyes open to other ways he can be of service.
“I really kind of feel it’s my baby,” Cole said.
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