Bethesda seeks to rebuild corps of volunteers after pandemic restrictions ease up

With pandemic restrictions easing, Minnesota's nursing homes are reopening to the public and asking people to once again volunteer in the facilities. Bethesda, with facilities in Willmar, New London

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Bethesda recreation assistant Keilani Schwer, center, leads a group in a Back to School social activity on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — Bethesda is opening more and more to the community after more than two years of pandemic restrictions.

And with more openness to the public has come the need to rebuild its corps of volunteers throughout the system of senior care facilities.

Mary Hanson, a recently retired teacher and new volunteer coordinator, said volunteers can help in many ways. Some even helped during the pandemic by decorating trees and keeping the grounds beautiful, because the public couldn’t come in.

Hanson illustrated her volunteer need during a nursing home activity at Bethesda Grand. About 30 people had gathered around tables for a Back to School party. A small group of activity aides were there to help.

They heard some school-related jokes, real groaners. An example — Student: “Would you ever punish me for something I didn’t do?” Teacher: “Of course not.” Student: “Well, good, because I didn’t do my homework.”


They said the pledge of allegiance and played a trivia game, with each table racing to think of a school-related word for every letter of the alphabet. Some tables had six or eight people; others had more.

“We need volunteers to help,” Hanson said as she watched.

“We could do smaller tables,” and give more individual attention, she said. For activities in a memory care unit, the goal is to have a nearly 1-1 ratio between residents and volunteers.

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Bethesda assistant recreation director Wanda Mehr leads a group of residents in the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Some things volunteers can do for residents:

  • Provide rides to church on Sundays.
  • Bring pets to visit.
  • Share musical talents.
  • Assist during activities, like calling bingo or playing games.
  • Read to residents who have poor vision or help them write letters.
  • Manicures.

“There is no end to the type of volunteers we can use,” Hanson said.
A more immediate need is volunteers for the observance of Bethesda’s 125th-anniversary celebration on Sept. 25.

Hanson said she hoped to have enough volunteers on hand so everyone could work a short shift, maybe an hour, so they can also participate in the celebration.

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Bethesda volunteers Donald Urban, at left, and Birdie fill envelopes for Bethesda on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. The couple, who live at Bethesda, have been married 67 years and love to stay active and help out where they can.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Bethesda is a nonprofit that provides care that ranges from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing care. It also provides a health club, home health care, adult day care and outpatient or short-stay therapy.

In addition to a large campus in Willmar, Bethesda has facilities in New London and Olivia. Volunteers are needed in all the facilities. Chief Development Officer Caroline Chan said Bethesda is able to employ enough people to care for residents, but volunteers add the “extra sprinkles” to improve their quality of life.


“Our mission can only blossom with more hands,” Chan said.

Many volunteers in their facilities have a connection to Bethesda, they said.

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Birdie Urban fills an envelope for Bethesda while volunteering on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Some of them even live there. Nursing home residents Birdie and Donald Urban, 92 and almost 95, volunteered to stuff the envelopes for the invitations to the 125th anniversary. They also wipe down bingo cards and chips after a game, among other volunteer work.

“We’ve got to do something to pass the time,” Birdie Urban said. They stopped to chat during their afternoon walk in the hallways. They also enjoy being outdoors when the weather allows.

The two have been married 67 years, Birdie said. She worked as a nurse’s aide in several facilities in the community, including 19 years at the former Bethesda Heritage. Donald Urban is a veteran and was a farmer.

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To become a volunteer

Hanson said she meets with volunteers before they start, and she offers coffee and treats. Volunteers need to provide some personal information, be fingerprinted and undergo a background check.

“We have these policies to keep everyone safe,” she said. Schools and other organizations with volunteers helping vulnerable populations have similar policies.


More information about volunteers and a link to an online volunteer form, go to and click on “Volunteer.”

Contact Hanson at 320-235-0240 or .

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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