Few, if any, industries in Albany manage the sheer number of volunteers as the Phoebe Putney Health System.
More than 650 volunteers strap on their pink smocks, red vests or polo shirts and assist patients and staff in the 72 or more departments within the hospital system.
At the top of that particular food chain carefully minding the volunteer machine is Suzanne Perrine.
This week is National Volunteer Awareness Week so Perrine sat down with J.D. Sumner to talk about her role managing the army of helpers who help keep Phoebe functioning.
Q: What was your first job?
A: Don’t laugh. I worked at TCBY in Albany, Ga., and that was my first job. My high school friend’s mother owned it at that point and she hired several of us who were 15 and not really quite old enough to work anywhere else.
Q: What did you do with your first paycheck?
A: You know? I was thinking about that and I don’t know. Probably, at some point, I owed somebody some money and I finally paid them or went shopping or I’m guessing I probably helped pay for some of my car expenses that were about to start coming.
Q: What tools do you use to motivate your employees to stay focused on the job?
A: I think it’s very important that we meet; not overkill on meetings but I try to have a staff meeting once a week just to touch base, to see what everybody is doing and who needs help. I think it saves a lot of email time if you can all be in one room together for 30 minutes or an hour versus communicating through email on things that we can just solve and move on. So the weekly meetings give us a time where we can touch base. It’s also my time to thank them and just to praise our team for what we’ve done in the last week and look at what we’ve done and see where we’re going. So I think just communication and a lot of praise.
Q: If you were stranded on an island, what three objects would you like to have?
A: I would probably say coffee — I’m going to need my caffeine; my Bible, just so I can have something to help me keep my sense of direction while I was stranded on that island; and my toothbrush. I can’t live without it. It just makes me feel clean.
Q: What’s your favorite office-related gadget?
A: .My iPhone. Because it just keeps me connected to work, children, my husband, just everything. It’s like everything I need and it can be with me all the time...at work, in the carpool line. You know, it’s how I can make sure I’m caught up on things that I need to know about.
NAME: Suzanne Perrine
TITLE: Director of Volunteer Services, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital
YEARS ON THE JOB: 17 months
FAMILY: Married to Steve Perrine, with two children
Q: If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, real or imaginary, who would it be and why?
A: I think it would probably be Laura Bush. Why? Because I think she is intelligent, she’s obviously a good mother, she’s been a good wife, but also very professional. She just seems to be very balanced in a lot of areas and calm. I just think a lot of her. I’d love to have lunch with her.
Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you go and why?
A: I would probably go to London. And I know that sounds crazy, but my husband and I went there several years ago on a business trip and we were there when the Tube got bombed. And we had to cut our trip short; we had to leave and head back because everything pretty much shut down around there. I felt like we got to see this beautiful world with so much history and so much to learn there and we got to see and then had to turn around and leave it. I’ve always wanted to go back. I would just love to go back. It’s beautiful over there. You can just learn so much about our history over there.
Q: You deal with volunteers that are between 80 and 15. Is it a challenge communicating the same information to different generations?
A: That is the biggest challenge. When you’re communicating with your students and high school students you can use email; you learn to use their language. You send emails — if you have to you even send a text — if they have to be somewhere at a certain time.
The older group, the seniors, we don’t even try to communicate through email because many of them do not use email. We send everything through direct mail.
It’s just kind of balancing and keeping our age groups in mind with our communications as well as where we put them. You know, we can’t place a 15-year-old in the same placement as an 80-year-old. You have to take each individual situation and balance the needs of the department along with what will keep the volunteer — especially the older ones — to help them feel rewarded so that they will get what they’re coming here for.
Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: I used to want to be an orthodontist. Then I took a nursing class in college just to kind of get my feel of that, you know, could I handle some of that, because even though orthodontists don’t require major surgery, but you need to be able to handle that kind of thing and I fainted in the class. So I realized that was not what I was meant to do. So I, over the years, changed my degree to finance and risk management so it was a big change.