There’s no question that a hospital is a vital community resource. When you think about hospitals, though, you probably think about the medical staff that fills them, and most likely not the hundreds of volunteers necessary for them to run smoothly. Pat Williams-Dernavich is a star volunteer at South County Hospital, but she’s reluctant to admit that, or to take credit for her hard work. “I just think South County Hospital is a wonderful hospital,” Pat says. “The people who live here have always said that it’s very different: it’s smaller, it’s very caring, the patient care is top priority, we’ve always done very well on awards and recognitions, and we want to make sure it stays where it is.” Pat has been volunteering at the hospital for 15 years, accumulating over 3400 hours of donated time, and works tirelessly on the South County Hospital Auxiliary, its fundraising group. In fact, she’s been the driving force of the highly anticipated annual fashion show fundraiser at the Dunes Club, which draws nearly 400 guests every year and raises thousands of dollars for the hospital.
Volunteering has always been a part of Pat’s life. “In 1956 or 1957, I was a candy striper at South County Hospital,” she says. Her family was based in Providence, but had a summer home at Bonnet Shores, and she spent her days in the hospital rather than the beach. When she married and moved to North Carolina, Pat spent her days volunteering at her children’s schools. “I moved back to Rhode Island in 1998,” she says. “When I moved back I decided to go back to volunteering. I started out as a volunteer in free admissions testing. Another volunteer asked me if I would be the volunteer coordinator,” which at the time was an unpaid position involving managing a staff of almost 300 volunteers. “We were constantly looking for new people, trying to get them,” she says. “We’d run ads in the paper, put them in church bulletins, of course word of mouth, too.” One of those volunteers she found is her mother, Virginia McKinnon. “She just turned 99 on April Fool’s Day,” Pat says. “She’s volunteered in the medical office building for 12 years, and she just loves it. This is a job to her. She gets very upset if it’s snowing and she can’t get there. A lot of people are very dedicated. They’re a very dedicated bunch of volunteers. ”
Pat coordinated all the volunteers for four years while still volunteering every Friday at the hospital, and during this time somehow found the time to become vice president of the South County Hospital Auxiliary. That’s how the fashion show was revived. “They had the fashion shows way back when in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I guess they died out,” Pat explains. “Carolyn Traxler and I, when she was president and I was vice president, were coming up with new ideas to raise money. She said ‘let’s bring this back,’ and she put me in charge of it. The first time we did it, we only had a couple of hundred people who came. I think we made $4000 that first year. This will be the 13th year we’ve had them, and last year we raised $17,000.”
The money goes to scholarship funds, and to make substantial improvements to the hospital, including completely furnishing two hospice rooms, renovating the nurses’ station and purchasing the Wave Van, which transports patients to the hospital who can’t get there on their own. This year’s event is on June 19 at The Dunes Club. “It’s become the event of the summer in some respects. I’ve already gotten emails from women who have come for many years, asking me when it is, when the invitations are going out, because they know we sell out.” It’s a luncheon fundraiser, and this year’s fashion show is by Chico’s of Newport. “It’s a chance to go to The Dunes Club, have a nice lunch with your friends and support something that needs to be supported.”
In between planning fundraisers, Pat volunteers every Friday with her husband Rodney Dernavich. “When he retired, I said ‘well, there’s only so much golf you can play. Why don’t you come do the same day surgery desk with me?’ He loves it,” she says.
So what fuels Pat’s spirits of volunteerism, even after all this time? Part of it is about supporting something that’s so important, not just to Wakefield but to people all over South County. Part of it, though, is pure enjoyment. “I just like the hospital,” she says. “I like the nurses. Some people say ‘you’re with sick people all the time,’ but a lot of the people are well. I’m very fortunate to be the age that I am and still be able to go out and do the things that I want to do. There are so many nice people there, and they do a lot for the community.”
To buy tickets to the Dunes Club Fashion Show, call 742-3501.
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