Scores of nurses at Erlanger hospital have become volunteers for Widows Harvest Ministries, a faith-based, nonprofit organization that provides help to urban widows.
It's a win-win proposition.
The nurses get community-service credit for their evaluations, and the widows get one-on-one attention from health-care professionals.
On a more basic level, young nurses — some of them weaned on texting and smartphones — get to polish their bedside manners and lonely widows get new friends.
iPhone, meet iContact.
"People coming out of nursing school don't necessarily learn how to talk to patients face to face," said Amy Rains, clinical administrator of neuroscience at Erlanger Health System. "Nursing is not just about the tasks, but also about establishing relationships."
Nursing jobs in a vast medical center tend to be task oriented, and the fast pace of a medical office often means that time with patients is limited, she said.
Rains, who volunteered to help coordinate the partnership with Widow's Harvest, said about 30 Chattanooga widows so far have been paired with nursing groups at Erlanger.
For her part, Rains has begun helping a 92-year-old widow.
"She lives with her son and daughter-in-law and she gets what she needs," Rains said. "Her biggest need is just having another person to talk to."
Nurse volunteers in the program are not allowed to administer medical care, but they can, for example, share information about how to seek out a primary care doctor, Rains said. More often, she said, the volunteers fill gaps in a widow's normal support group. They are expected to call and visit the women regularly.
"If they need toilet paper, for example, we should help them get it," Rains said.
Widows Harvest is a 30-year-old nonprofit group that helps more than 100 widows a year with home maintenance and other needs. The bible is pretty plain about admonishing the faithful to care for widows and fatherless children, said Andy Mendonsa, founder and executive director of Widows Harvest Ministries.
"We do everything from putting on new roofs, to mowing grass, to raking leaves to cleaning gutters," said Mendonsa, who started the ministry in 1987 with a pledge from a single doner for $25 a month.
Things have grown a bit since then. Last year about 3,250 volunteers pitched in to help widows in Chattanooga through the ministry, Mendonsa said.
About 50 to 60 of the widows are active in a weekly bible study and prayer meeting at the Silverdale St. Elmo Baptist church, he said.
Donations to Widows Harvest Ministries come from individuals, churches and Christian foundations, Mendonsa said. Interestingly, about half the money comes from outside the Chattanooga area, he said, as the ministry has an active web site and Facebook outreach.
The partnership with Erlanger is new, but the potential is enormous. Already, there is a plan in place to include Erlanger's University of Tennessee College of Medicine residents in the program.
"It's important for nurses and medical students to come and break the bubble and see [people] as living, breathing, valuable human beings,'' Mendonsa said. "It's hard to do that when people are streaming through a waiting room."
To learn more about Widows Harvest Ministries, visit www.widows.org.
Contact Mark Kennedy at 423-757-6645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.