Laughter – it can be infectious, uplifting and refreshing.

It’s also pretty common when you stroll into the coffee and gift shop at the Colchester-East Hants Health Centre. Both locations are staffed by volunteers with the Colchester Regional Hospital Auxiliary.

“Our volunteers really enjoy being at the health centre because it allows them to deal directly with the people who use the supports and services it offers,” said Glenda Kent, auxiliary president. “The coffee and gift shops are very much a place where people congregate. The social aspect of it is very rewarding not only to hospital visitors and patients but the volunteers as well. It’s amazing how our group can change the atmosphere and lighten things up a little. Sometimes, people are coming in and they’re nervous or upset but once they spend a few minutes with us, you can often see the expression change on their face which is very rewarding.”

The two shops are also the main source of revenue for the auxiliary, which turns around and injects that money right back into the health centre through the purchase of equipment. That wouldn’t be possible without a dedicated effort from a committed volunteer base, which the auxiliary is looking to grow.

Approximately 70 volunteers are responsible for filling the 60-plus volunteer shifts it needs to keep the shops operational seven days a week.

“We have morning, afternoon and evening shifts daily,” continued Kent. “It’s flexible when it comes to those shifts. No one is forced to work specific times or days. We really work to build our schedule around the volunteers. If someone is more comfortable working in the mornings, that’s fine, we will fit them in.”

Becoming a Colchester Regional Hospital Auxiliary volunteer is a rather simple process. The first step involves filling out a form, which can be picked up at either shop. Once it’s been filled out and returned, an interview process is conducted.

The auxiliary also asks for two references and has each volunteer complete a criminal record check.

“Following that, volunteer services at the hospital will provide an orientation for new volunteers which basically gives people an idea of where everything is in the hospital,” said Kent. “The information desk at the hospital is usually closed at 4 p.m. and it’s not always open on weekends or holidays so the shops serve as an information hub.”

New volunteers can also rest easy knowing they’ll be paired with experienced members of the team starting out.

While many of those applying to be volunteers are retired or semi-retired, the auxiliary is hoping to attract some younger members of the community. Kent says it’s a great opportunity for high school, university and community college students to gain some valuable volunteer hours.

“We feel the flexibility in our schedule makes us a great spot for younger volunteers in the community,” Kent said. “We’ve had several students volunteer with us in the past and it’s worked out really well. If someone is only free on Tuesday evenings then we will make it work. We actually have a young nurse who works here and volunteers with us when she can.”

Volunteers working the coffee and gift shops aren’t required to become members of the auxiliary, although the cost on an annual basis is only $5.

In recent years, a lack of volunteers has led to the demise of popular auxiliary fundraisers like the HubBub. With an injection of new faces, the fundraising committee hope to become re-energized once again.

“We know some people want to volunteer but they don’t want to be in the coffee or gift shop,” said Kent. “If there were people out there who wanted to help raise money but might only be interested in doing something once a month or even less, we still see the fit. It could include a group that decides to resurrect the HubBub. Or maybe they have other ideas and they can carry them out on their own time. They’re still volunteering with us but it would be in a different capacity. It’s like the individuals we have who knit, bake or hook rugs. They do this on their own time.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities with the Colchester Regional Hospital Auxiliary, visit either shop on the main floor of the health centre.

The Colchester Regional Hospital Auxiliary would like to thank Community Credit Union, Patterson Law and Colchester Community Funeral Home for sponsoring this column, which will appear every second month in Hub Now.