Annual program encourages faculty, staff and students to spend part of workday volunteering with colleagues during holiday season

University Communications

With the holiday season about to begin, the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus once again is asking faculty, staff, students and alumni to volunteer for local organizations as part of the CU in the Community campaign.

2016 CU in the Community -- CU Anschutz volunteers at the VA Hospital
Volunteers from the CU in the Community trip to the Denver VA Hospital. From left, Graduate School Dean David Engelke; CU Anschutz Chancellor Donald Elliman; Linda Gallegos, the chancellor’s executive assistant; College of Nursing Dean Sarah Thompson; Mariana Ledezma, an associate director for the CU Anschutz Community-Campus Partnership; Neil Krauss, director of initiatives and outreach in the CU Anschutz chancellor’s office; and VA volunteer specialist Jack Fletcher.

This is the sixth annual CU in the Community program, which gives staff the opportunity to volunteer a half-day of work time. Departments are encouraged to volunteer as a group so they can work together outside the normal workplace setting while contributing to the university’s mission of improving the health and well-being of people in Colorado.

The 2016-17 campaign began on Nov. 11, which is Veteran’s Day. The starting date reflects CU Denver and CU Anschutz Medical Campus’ focus on supporting area veterans this year.

Members of CU Anschutz’s leadership staff, including Chancellor Donald Elliman, started the campaign by visiting the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital in Denver.

Supporting those who served

On that afternoon, CU Anschutz staff welcomed vets in the various outpatient clinic waiting rooms by passing out coffee and tea and talking to the patients about their experiences. They also dropped into patients’ rooms to chat and kept them company as they received treatment in the infusion clinic.

“Volunteering with the VA Hospital was particularly meaningful. Our veterans have sacrificed for us – it feels good to give them more than a heartfelt ‘thank you.’” — Chancellor Donald Elliman

That’s where Elliman, Graduate School Dean David Engelke, PhD, and College of Nursing Dean Sarah Thompson, PhD, RN, FAAN, spent much of their visit. The infusion clinic is where vets go to receive chemotherapy or intravenous treatment for conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Depending on the treatment, a patient could be in that clinic for five minutes or for a few hours. The infusion rooms have recliners and televisions for each patient, but sometimes the best way to pass the time is by chatting. Elliman, Engelke and Thompson spoke to about 10 vets of varying ages and service backgrounds as they received treatment.

The vets welcomed the chance to talk, and CU Anschutz’s volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to offer support.

“Volunteering with the VA Hospital was particularly meaningful. Our veterans have sacrificed for us – it feels good to give them more than a heartfelt ‘thank you,’” Elliman said afterward.

The help will be appreciated, VA volunteer specialist Jack Fletcher said as he walked the CU Anschutz visitors through the hospital. The VA relies on volunteers to help make patients feel welcome and comfortable, and it has a list of more than a dozen jobs around the hospital volunteers can staff, plus more roles in which volunteers can help veterans out outside of the hospital.

Contributing to the community

While employees are free to choose the organizations and causes they support, this holiday season the university has formed partnerships with organizations in Denver and Aurora. In addition to the VA, the Volunteers of America is a partner. CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell is scheduled to volunteer at the VOA’s Veterans Resource Center in January.

CU Anschutz Chancellor Donald Elliman at 2016 CU in the Community trip to VA hospital
CU Anschutz Chancellor Donald Elliman at 2016 CU in the Community trip to VA hospital. Elliman is talking with Paul Bruns, an RN in the infusion clinic.

Another option is the university’s Veteran & Military Student Services’ Adopt-a-Vet program, which gives gifts to veterans who reside in the Colorado Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons.

The CU in the Community web page has a list of other featured partners, stories from volunteers, details about the program and sign-up forms. The program runs through Feb. 20, which is Presidents’ Day.

While CU in the Community’s focus is on serving others, members of CU’s community also reap benefits.

“Taking the time to volunteer together with colleagues is rewarding on many levels. It’s good to interact outside of the workplace. And it’s satisfying to contribute to a cause you believe in,” Elliman said.

Joining Elliman, Engelke and Thompson were Mariana Ledezma, an associate director for the CU Anschutz Community-Campus Partnership; Neil Krauss, director of initiatives and outreach in the CU Anschutz chancellor’s office; and Linda Gallegos, the chancellor’s executive assistant.