Kent Emery, 72, is a man who likes to keep busy. He retired twice: first, following a 30-year career in the telecommunications industry and second, after working part-time for eight years in health care and law enforcement.
This month, Kent will celebrate his 10-year anniversary as a valet volunteer at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming.
"I guess volunteerism is a big part of our family," Kent says. "My wife, Kathy, started volunteering at the front desk when Lakes opened. She encouraged me to join her after my second retirement. After all, how much ice fishing and deer hunting can one guy do?"
A Vietnam vet who served on two Navy destroyers, Kent remembers his first "volunteer" opportunity in the military:
"I was a young kid who didn’t know much, and an officer asked, ‘Who would be willing to work on a swift boat?’ I raised my hand and said, ‘Sure.’ "
Swift boats were used to intercept suspicious vessels. The work was intense, but it taught him a lifetime of lessons about teamwork and camaraderie — lessons he carries with him even now in his role at the hospital.
"I like being able to help people," Kent says. "I’ve built relationships with my ‘regulars,’ especially the veterans. You know, vets — especially from my era — won’t talk about anything that’s bothering them, unless it’s to another vet. It’s nice to be able to lend an ear when they need one."
Always needed, always appreciated
Several years ago, Kent was a patient himself at another Fairview facility. That experience informs how he feels about volunteering.
"We’re here to make sure that people are being taken care of, even before they step through our doors," he says. "People of any age can have problems walking. And if we’re not parking cars, we’re cleaning off windshields for individuals with limited mobility."
Kent volunteers one day a week and regularly fills in when there are schedule openings. During one of the harshest winters in recent memory, he was one of 10 volunteers who consistently drove through treacherous conditions and trudged through snow and a polar vortex to provide valet service for patients, families, and other visitors.
"We get so many thank you’s," Kent says, and many visitors want to tip him and his fellow volunteers for the complimentary parking service.
"We tell them it’s not necessary, but they tend to anyway," he says. "Then we turn around and give the proceeds to our hospital volunteer organization to help fund special purchases." This past year, donations helped buy a new wheelchair specifically for patients using the valet.
It’s a good thing for everyone
For Kent, committing to volunteering is simple. "This is a good thing for me and for our visitors. I get to stay active, meet very nice people, and have interesting conversations. Some people are real characters … and I mean that in a good way. In turn, what I do can help make others feel safer, less nervous, and more connected. It’s great to help the hospital get things done."
To learn about Fairview volunteer opportunities, please visit https://www.fairview.org/volunteering.