How to give back: Couple who lost son now help others (w/VIDEO)

December 17, 2013 | by

The fourth in a series about how to give, and give back, during the holiday season ...

Giving back during the holidays (or year-round) doesn’t have to come in the form of cash, toys or tangible gifts. In fact, it can be done at no cost: One way is by volunteering.

Local hospitals, animal shelters and other nonprofit organizations nationwide rely on volunteers to help run daily operations. At City of Hope, volunteers play a special role, bringing compassion, empathy and hope to patients and their families.

Gloria and Sal Grill know just how powerful this form of giving can be. The couple started volunteering at City of Hope after lymphoma claimed the life of their son in 1999. They wanted to give back to the institution that tried to save his life. They've now been working with City of Hope patients for almost 15 years.

Every Friday, the couple make their way to the cancer center where they help patients find their way around the hospital, file paperwork, answer phones and assist the staff in whatever they may need.

“Being amongst the patients is very inspiring,” Gloria said. “We get to learn new things every day and it feels good to help people.”

Added Sal: “They helped my son really good here. So we want to help them in return.”

Shortly after their son died, Sal was diagnosed with colon cancer and was also treated at City of Hope. With the help of Donald David, M.D., chief of gastroenterology, and his staff, Sal was able to recover from the disease and is currently in remission.

“I’ve been in the same shoes as the patients and their families here, so I’ve learned to understand this sickness," Gloria said. "And I want to help them understand it, too.”

Here the couple — who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary — share five things they've learned from volunteering at City of Hope.

  1.  Volunteering helps you accept what you cannot change. After watching her husband, son and many patients fight cancer, Gloria said she has learned not question a diagnosis, but to accept it and move forward.
  2. Volunteering makes you feel good. Through the years, studies have suggested that volunteer work increases self-confidence, combats depression and could help people stay physically healthy, especially older adults.
  3. Volunteering helps you be friendlier and have a sense of humor. Sal has always been more introverted by nature, but he said volunteering has helped him open up and become friendlier.
  4. Volunteering helps you learn how to support different types of patients. Throughout the years, the couple have been able to learn how to give different types of support to patients, said Gloria. You never want to say the wrong thing to patients. 
  5. Volunteering brings knowledge. “I have learned so much by volunteering,” said Gloria. Whether it’s new medical terms, research advancements or new treatments, I have so much more knowledge.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities at City of Hope, visit cityofhope.org/volunteer.