Her father did a tour of duty in World War II, and most of the men in her family served in the military. Her mother was a nurse and most women in her family – going back multiple generations – worked in the medical field. So it was inevitable that retiree Samyriah Crain would volunteer at Seattle’s VA hospital.
From its campus on Beacon Hill, the VA Puget Sound Health Care System treats more than 100,000 veterans in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. It’s the job of Samyriah, and fellow volunteers, to help veterans navigate the sprawling campus.
“Most of the patients are anxious when they get here,” she says. “Some want to stop at the desk and vent a little. Some want to talk about their military experience. Some want to talk about their long commute. I just try to make them feel comfortable. We’re here for people who served the United States.” She adds, “They deserve to be pampered.”
Volunteering uses skills Samyriah developed during her career, which includes 15 years at Southern Pacific Railroad and a job ensuring the right cars were loaded on the right tracks. After the railway went out of business, she worked medical claims at Virginia Mason Medical Center before retiring from retail giant Safeway. “After I retired, I said, ‘I’ve got to find something to do.’ I wasn’t just going to sit at home, order Xfinity, and watch TV,” she jokes.
Samyriah volunteers on Thursdays, when the staff treats a high number of dialysis and prothesis patients, and she hopes to add another shift. “You have to be very observant. You have to have patience, be a good communicator and have some humility,” she says.
On a recent Thursday, a hesitant young veteran said he needed no help getting to his appointment, yet his body language sent the opposite message. Without uttering a word, he gracefully accepted Samyriah’s assistance in guiding him through the maze of corridors in the hospital basement.
“You have to be very observant. You have to have patience, be a good communicator and have some humility.” -Samyriah Crain, RSVP Volunteer at Seattle’s VA Hospital
On another occasion, a patient having difficulty walking insisted on not using a wheelchair. “I saw something different in his body language,” she recalls. “I told him just to sit down and rest a minute. I let his wife push him to his appointment. I later found out that he was a colonel, a high-up ranking guy, and he didn’t want to show any weakness.”
Samyriah “has been a volunteer since January 2017, providing more than 180 hours of service,” notes Mitra Gobin, chief of Voluntary Services at the VA. “We appreciate [her] volunteering in this highly value-added position.”
She was connected to the VA through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), a national service nonprofit locally sponsored by Solid Ground. “I wanted to volunteer,” Samyriah notes, “and I knew Solid Ground has outreach programs for low-income people.”
So, does Samyriah recommend other retirees volunteer their skills to help the community? Absolutely. “Volunteering is a commitment and requires teamwork,” she says, adding that being a volunteer “is a rewarding treasure.”