Celebrating a Lifelong Volunteer Spirit
Volunteering is a generational legacy for St. Louis native Ellie Svenson. Her mother was a volunteer at St. Louis Children's Hospital, while her father was involved in the YMCA, the Eagle Scout Association and his church.
When Ellie moved back to her hometown in 1974 after living in Atlanta for seven years, she jumped at the chance to volunteer alongside her mother at St. Louis Children's Hospital. As a former teacher, Ellie used her educational background as a volunteer tutor for hospitalized children. She also volunteered in the orthopedic clinic and the emergency room.
"Volunteering at St. Louis Children's Hospital was my first community involvement in St. Louis," Ellie says. "The more I was at the hospital, the more interested I became in helping."
Soon Ellie was recruited to join the board of the hospital's Auxiliary (which later became known as Friends of St. Louis Children's Hospital) where she served for more than 20 years. She was president of the Auxiliary in 1985 and 1986 and became one of the first Auxiliary presidents to serve on the Board of Trustees for St. Louis Children's Hospital. Ellie worked on the board's marketing committee for the "New Hospital" (the building Children's occupies today).
As a member of the Auxiliary and Twigs—an offshoot of the Auxiliary—Ellie's life was a satisfying whirlwind of year-round events and activities. In addition to serving as editor of the Auxiliary's newspaper, CHAT, she wrote and helped publish the 25 th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of Auxiliary History 1954-1979, and served on the committee for the Auxiliary's second cookbook, St. Louis Souvenirs. She also gave hospital tours and volunteered at the early Toy Depots, galas, used clothing sales and the Love Light Festivals. While Ellie was active in the Auxiliary, the group was completely responsible for all aspects of the gift shop and the cafeteria.
Ellie believes volunteers such as Friends, Young Friends and Twigs are the lifeblood of the hospital. "The hospital is still about the person," she says. "You can have all the bells and whistles with a high-tech building and outstanding medical care, but if you don't have heart, you have nothing. Groups like Friends provide the heart."
She is proud of how strong the Friends group is today and believes the future of volunteering is in smaller time commitments called episodic volunteering. "Most people want to do something, yet they may only be able to do it in shorter increments. Twigs embraces this concept."
While her hands-on volunteering has slowed, she continues to be part of two Twigs groups: Don't Set the Table and Lunch Bunch, as the treasurer.
With more than 44 years of involvement with St. Louis Children's Hospital, Ellie has impacted numerous areas. Now she has turned her focus to philanthropy. "As a volunteer, I saw firsthand the dedication of the nurses and doctors up close and wanted to support their mission," Ellie says. "I think you should always give back, whether that's in time or money. It often depends on what stage of life you're in. Each generation can help in different ways and the difference you make is huge. While I no longer participate 'in house,' I now can support the hospital's mission financially."
In recent years, Ellie has made gifts of appreciated stock to St. Louis Children's Hospital in support of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as a way to maximize the impact of her gift while saving on capital gains taxes. She is also including the hospital in her estate plan.
In addition, Ellie has instilled the spirit of voluntarism in her two adult children. Her daughter, Kim, started early as a candy striper at Children's. Now as a mom of three teenage boys, her volunteer commitment continues to grow in the community. Ellie's son, Alex, lives in Chicago and is involved with an orphanage in Nicaragua.
"It's a generational thing for my family to be involved," Ellie says. "I'm so grateful for my own family's health and want to give back to help other children and their families. I'm proud to be part of such a fabulous institution."