Sherry Brothers: 'It's just gratifying to be able to help'

Posted: Dec. 5, 2012 6:13 pm Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 2:23 pm

Sherry Brothers always planned on a career in the retail business world. Now she shares her retail expertise as a volunteer.

The western Kansas native moved to Quincy seven years ago after marrying her husband, Dan, lead chaplain at Blessing Hospital. His ties to the hospital spurred Sherry's involvement as a volunteer with the hospital's Tea Room, where she chairs the gift shop committee. Brothers puts her retail experience to work in choosing gifts to appeal to Blessing's patients, staff, visitors and the public.

"The Tea Room at Blessing Hospital is a vibrant, exciting place to be," said Susan Scholz, Blessing's director of volunteer services. "Sherry Brothers is one of the creative forces behind that excitement. As a volunteer gift shop buyer, Sherry spends countless hours selecting, pricing, sorting and storing the merchandise. Her unique talent for building pleasing displays has helped the Blessing Volunteers in Partnership nearly double gift shop sales since 2008, when she joined the volunteer team."

Beyond the hospital, Brothers is active in Vermont Street United Methodist Church, volunteers at the Horizons Soup Kitchen and serves on the John Wood Mansion Board.

"Sometimes you don't have enough hours in the day," Brothers said.

But she said it's important to get involved -- for the community and for herself as part of a team working toward a goal.

"It meets the needs of the organization, but also it's gratifying. It gives you a feeling of being needed somewhere," Brothers said. "For someone to say that there's nothing to do, that's pretty incredible because there is just a wonderful support of volunteers to the hospital and the other places I'm involved with, too."

Why Sherry volunteers, in her own words:

"In visiting with the director of volunteer services (at Blessing Hospital) shortly after I moved here, she learned that I had owned three retail stores in western Kansas and Oklahoma. Eventually I got involved with the gift shop and on the committee, and needless to say, I enjoyed it. After you've done that for 20-plus years, I think it's in your blood."

"Our gift shop at Blessing is very unique. It is the only one like it in the state of Illinois as far as a gift shop within a hospital. You can go there seven days a week and have really good food. They serve breakfast all day long, even cheeseburgers early in the morning for those who have been up all night."

"We have a wonderful variety of gifts, just a large variety with various prices. We have a candy committee. These two little ladies provide all the goodies as far as candies and sundries for the employees and the visiting people, and then we have a floral committee who makes these marvelous, beautiful floral arrangements. Right now we're just full of beautiful Christmas wreaths and centerpieces and that type of thing."

"It makes a very good retreat, if you will, for those who are visiting family staying in the hospital. Come and have some excellent food, have a quiet place to relax and look at the gifts, maybe even pick up a pair of little snuggly slippers for their loved one upstairs whose feet are cold."

"It's just a nice, nice place. In fact, in the last two or three years, we have become aware that we have become a destination place to go shop and eat. The Tea Room is operated under BVIP, Blessing Volunteers in Partnership. All proceeds or profits go back to the hospital. In the last 10 years, the Tea Room has given back over $1.2 million dollars. That's pretty impressive."

"There is a gift committee, four of us, and once a year we go to the Atlanta Market. That's in January. We order pretty much everything we are going to need for the year. We're talking about all the different holidays, starting with Valentine's, Easter, Mother's Day, Fourth of July and on into fall with Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas. It's a big job. It's a lot of long hours, a lot of hard work, but we work great together and we just get the job done."

"As a business owner, I would go anywhere from five to 12 times per year, to Los Angeles and Dallas. I'd have friends who would want to go with me, and they did, then quickly found out it took a lot of stamina. It's not just working through the day and going out at night to good places to eat. It's long hours of going over orders, poring over them and working your budget. That never changes, whether you're a volunteer or not."

"It's a weeklong process, anywhere from 12 to 14 hour days of ordering, totaling up orders, working the budget up at night. We have laughs. We get frustrated and cry sometimes when we've lost our way. It's a huge complex -- three buildings, 21 stories high each with a large annex off of one. It's very easy to get lost, but it is fun and hard work and a huge responsibility just buying wisely and providing gifts that employees and visitors will enjoy."

"There's an old saying that you don't necessarily buy what you like, but that's OK to a degree. As you go along, you learn by experience what is going to sell and what is not. Sometimes there might be a hot-selling item for a period of time, then you realize we probably don't need to reorder. The goal is to always have new, fresh items that are going to be enticing for people to want to take home and use as gifts or for themselves."

"A lot of employees enjoy the opportunity to be able to do a lot of Christmas shopping downstairs in the Tea Room instead of going after work to do their shopping. Sometimes around the noon hour, those lines do get pretty long."

"I've always enjoyed working with people when they come in, especially at the hospital now in the volunteer role, and they're looking for some little something to take up to the room where a loved one is probably going to die soon. They want so desperately to find something just to take up. There's also happy times when they come in to buy a teddy bear for a newborn baby. To me, it's just gratifying to be able to help them find what they need and want and to see them leave happy."

"I have fallen back on my past experience on a daily basis. I think volunteer services does a wonderful job of working with a new volunteer and determining what their strengths are. If you're placed in an area where you feel confident in what you're doing, that helps tremendously. Any group within a group can't function on its own. It's all these little teams working together to get goals."

"We do have fun events. We call them lobby events. For Rush for the Plush, we set up out in the lobby with a huge display of plush, little plush snowmen, Santa Clauses, moose. People seem to really like moose. We have events like that throughout the year."

"Another favorite that we started last year was called the Easter Bunny Buffet. That was a huge hit for the parents to either bring their traditional Easter baskets their kids always get or purchase baskets from us and fill it up with grass, candies, plush and all that good stuff. We would even wrap it up and put a bow on it. They thought it was wonderful to be able to do that and hide their basket at their office. We try to do fun things like that."

"(On the gift shop committee), Marilyn Shrader and Judy Schutte work tirelessly in inventory, pricing, checking for any kind of breakage, keeping invoices to be paid. Mary Koetters, I call her our artsy-crafty lady. Whenever we come up with ideas, she says: 'I have stuff for that at home. I can make that.' There's a bunch of other wonderful volunteers who wait tables, cashier. For events, they all chip in, help us out. It takes a team."

"It would be impossible for nonprofit organizations to survive without support of the community, and a huge part of that is the support of the volunteers who give of their time, their energy and their God-given talents to help that organization meet its mission statement. We're very proud of what we do. It's not just one volunteer -- a whole team of volunteers and the organization that supports them to do what they've been trained to do and provide the tools for them to do."

"A lot of people don't think of nonprofit organizations as being a business, but it is. If you fall back on the guidelines and policies of any business, that would work as well in a nonprofit organization. Customer service is extremely important."

"(Along with volunteer work at the Tea Room), I'm on the board of John Wood Mansion, involved in choir and church. I'm sure you've heard of Horizons (Soup Kitchen). It's only one day a month, but I do go and help serve the lunches at St. John's, which is very gratifying to me."

"There's kind of always been a soft spot in my heart for those who may not have as much to eat as I do and my family. When my grandchildren were small, in western Kansas, I volunteered for what we called the community food cupboard. We would actually take boxes of groceries to families in dire need. I'd take my grandchildren with me. It was so gratifying and an eye-opener to my grandchildren to see. I remember one little boy who ran out of the house to greet us. He wanted to help carry the groceries. I handed him a small sack, and he spied a box of Jell-O in there. He took out that box of Jell-O. He was so excited over that box. He ran back into the house -- he was living with his grandmother -- to tell her about this box of Jell-O. I don't know that we even talked about it, but I can tell it impressed my granddaughter in a way."

Sherry Brothers was interviewed by Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar and photographed by Staff Photographer Michael Kipley.