From nurse to hospital volunteer

  • February 24, 2016

By Juan Villa, The Salinas Californian

Volunteer Yolanda Benavente walks from the old hospital through the corridors to the new. Benavente is a retired nurse, and has been volunteering for 18 years. (Photo: Jay Dunn/The Salinas Californian)

SALINAS, CA (February 24, 2016) – After more than 35 years as a registered nurse, Yolanda Benavente wanted to get away from the stress caused by a job with such long hours and so many emotional ups-and-downs.

So what did the Salinas-resident do? Continue working at the same hospital causing the stress, but this time as a volunteer.

That was 18 years ago, and her volunteer service hasn’t slowed down.

“Now I’m doing something I really love to do,” she said. “It’s a fun thing that gives me the feeling I’m doing something, but I don’t have the stress behind me.”

Benavente, whose family moved to Watsonville from Phoenix when she was a kid, is a longtime volunteer with the Natividad Medical Center Volunteer Auxiliary in Salinas.

She became a volunteer there in 1997 after retiring from their intensive care unit.

“When I left nursing, I couldn’t just stay home and not do anything but eat, watch TV and take care of my husband. I needed to do something else,” said Benavente, who became a nurse because she loves helping people. “I decided I needed to go back, not as a nurse, but as a volunteer.”

Some of the first volunteer responsibilities included performing hearing tests on newborn babies and giving presentations on car seat education. It wasn’t long before she branched off to the leadership part of the nonprofit organization.

That’s when Benavente began to see the different programs that were open to people and the various things that could help them. She saw herself helping both patients and volunteers find those programs and help them through them.

“My nursing background has been a tremendous help,” she said. “I can understand what the staff and the nurses are going through; I’ve been there. I know the stress level and I know what to say to patients when they’re scared.”

Benavente currently volunteers five days a week, totaling about 30 to 40 hours a week. It was two days a week when she began. She also currently serves on the auxiliary’s board.

“We’re very important [to the hospital]. We’re like the angels of the hospital,” she said. “We do the things that staff doesn’t want to do or just doesn’t have the time for. Staffing is a big issue here, so we fill in where staffing lacks. We do the little extra things that help them do their jobs.”

Last year, 450 Natividad Medical Center volunteers logged more than 49,400 hours of service. Nathan D. Fuentes, executive director of the volunteer auxiliary, estimates that Benavente has volunteered more than 30,000 hours in her 18 years of volunteer service.

“I’m very fortunate and grateful to have someone of her caliber working and helping us here at the hospital,” he said. “…she’s very helpful and compassionate. She’s always willing to help and is very energetic. She’s a ball of energy.”

In 2011, a health scare forced Benavente to be away from her volunteer service for about four months. When her illness subsided, she decided to return to helping people.

“I thought I had lost a wonderful friend, mentor, leader, and volunteer,” Fuentes said. “Her drive to serve and her compassion was so strong that she was able to recover from the illness and come back.”

There are three layers of volunteers at Natividad: those that are there day in and day out like Benavente, project based volunteers and seasonal volunteers.

The volunteer auxiliary operates a gift shop in the lobby of the Barnet J. Segal Outpatient Services Center, which is one of the numerous ways volunteers can help.

Other ways include “assisting visitors around the medical center campus, assembling baby gift bags for new mothers, offering companionship to pediatric and elderly patients and providing clerical and translation services.”

“It would be hard [without volunteers],” Fuentes said. “When I came on board 20 years ago I think we only had a handful of volunteers. There were quite a few patients needs and services that we couldn’t institute and deal with. Going from that handful to our 450-plus right now, it’s really an amazing thing. They’re a significant part of the team.”

Fuentes said volunteers are assigned according to their interests and skills.

“Someone who has a dedication, commitment, and compassion for people [is a good hospital volunteer],” Benavente said. “They have to like people, and they have to like what they’re doing. That’s our thing. We take care of people. Patient care is the main thing.”

For Fuente, Benavente is a classic example of a volunteer that would be ideal because she’s been humble and open to do anything identified as a need.

“She’s an amazing volunteer, as are the others. I know we can only feature one or two, but all of my volunteers are wonderful,” Fuentes said. “I’m so blessed, grateful and fortunate to be able to work with them, to work collaboratively in support of the hospital and its mission.”

If there’s one thing to remember about volunteering, it’s this.

“The beauty of volunteering is that you can come in when you can,” Benavente said. “You can make your own hours, your own time and give what you want to give.”

Recognize a volunteer

We’re looking to profile volunteers from nonprofit groups. Contact Juan Villa at with your information.

How to help

To volunteer at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, contact volunteer auxiliary executive director Nathan Fuentes at 831-755-4215 or