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An army of angels: Incoming and outgoing Auxiliary presidents share thoughts, goals

Photo Mary Beth Hislop/Town Crier After a year at the helm of ECH's Auxiliary, outgoing president Mariana Latham said she's "looking forward to getting her life back."
Incoming Auxiliary president Anne Kusian has settled on several goals but said she realizes “one year is a very short time.”

They may have different philosophies, backgrounds and goals, but the incoming and outgoing El Camino Hospital Auxiliary presidents share a common purpose – to strengthen the hospital’s volunteer-service force and move the organization forward in providing additional assistance in an economy that mandates cutbacks.

It’s a changing of the guard, of sorts, as Auxiliary president Mariana Latham officially passed the torch to president-elect Anne Kusian June 30. After a yearlong reign, it’s a change that Latham said she welcomed when El Camino’s Board of Directors honored her for her service at its meeting last month.

“No Auxiliary president truly knows the true scope of the role until the job actually starts,” Board Chairman John Zoglin read from a resolution. “The many hours spent at the hospital, the countless problems to solve. … But as those who preceded her, she stayed the course and led with enthusiasm and sincerity of purpose.”

Latham acknowledged that the job was time consuming.

“I have enjoyed this last year,” she said, “but I am looking forward to getting my life back.”

But she’s proud of the warm and caring volunteers who perform the little services that patients, families and staff appreciate every day.

“I’ve met many people who have asked, ‘How do you get to do this?’” Latham said.

Both Latham and Kusian view the full-time, volunteer job as a privilege that encompasses managing the adult and junior volunteers as well as fielding suggestions from hospital staff and patients.

Latham’s not resting on her laurels. After volunteering with the Auxiliary since 2004 and giving more than 5,000 hours of service – before becoming president – she plans to return to her former duties managing volunteers in the emergency department and a once-a-week stint as Chairman of the Day, for which leaders oversee shifts and troubleshoot problems.

“There’s no way I would leave,” Latham said.

But she leaves behind her own concerted efforts in personalizing the president’s position, including soliciting input on problems volunteers were experiencing.

“They give of their skill, effort and passion, pushing the limits of care and compassion,” Latham said. “I made it a point to visit all the (Auxiliary) services to meet with them. I feel that feedback is very important.”

She also established the “Wow” card, an acknowledgment from staff to individual volunteers who go above and beyond.

Kusian has her own goals for the Auxiliary’s future as head of the volunteer army of 909 Mountain View members and 140 at El Camino’s Los Gatos facility.

“It’s really difficult, because one year is a very short time,” she said. “What’s come to me is I would really like to nurture and mentor the young and junior members. They’ve just fallen through the cracks.”

While junior membership is at an all-time high, according to Latham, volunteers 14-18 are relegated to specific duties because of their ages. Moreover, volunteer hours are limited to late afternoons, evenings and weekends because they’re generally in school. Kusian is searching for other areas where they can serve.

The new president also plans to “drag the Auxiliary into the 21st century.”

“We need to update the website – get on Twitter and Facebook,” she said.

The Auxiliary is ever evolving. While many volunteers move away, go off to college or illness curtails commitment, there are times when older Auxiliary members are no longer capable of performing the services. And that can take the heart out of people who have given so much heart themselves.

“It’s a very touchy issue,” Latham said. “When (volunteers) are no longer able to do the job – how do you deal with that in a nice way?”

But it happens.

Based on volunteer hours recorded since August 1959, the Auxiliary reached a major milestone in April, hitting 5 million hours. Since 2007, Kusian has contributed 2,000 of those.

“That’s actually very small compared with some of our volunteers,” she said.

As the hospital winds down its yearlong 50th anniversary celebration – its birthday is Sept. 1 – the Auxiliary has scheduled a recruiting campaign for volunteers over age 50, with an invitation to the community to visit the Mountain View and Los Gatos facilities to see what they do. Scheduled Aug. 27, the Volunteer Fair will highlight the areas in which Auxiliary members serve and includes tours of El Camino’s state-of-the-art technologies that could trigger a special visitor’s “how-do-I-get-to-do-this?” moment.

“You never know where somebody is going to find a niche here,” Kusian said.

For more information, visit www.elcaminohospital.org.

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