Photos courtesy of Providence Mount St. Vincent
Left: Shirley Vradenburgh with her trusty camera that has captured innumerable special moments in Mount residents' lives. Right: Shirley spending time with Mount resident Shirley Huffman.

11,000 hours and counting, Shirley is a volunteer extraordinaire for The Mount

458 days (as in the full 24), 11,000 hours, or a little over 39 million seconds: However you quantify it, Shirley Vradenburgh must have some great karma headed her way.

Since 1996, the West Seattle resident has left work at Seattle Lutheran High School around 4 p.m. and headed to Providence Mount St. Vincent, the elderly care and rehabilitation center known casually as “The Mount.”

Shirley first came to The Mount when she brought her mother to live there in ’96. She visited her mom every day she possibly could during the two years before her passing, and along the way made a special bond with the staff and residents. She started lending a hand, however she could.

“I just started helping out at that time and just kept coming,” Shirley said. “After she died, I was back the next day.”

And the next day, and the next one after that. Shirley figures she comes to The Mount and helps a unit (they call it a neighborhood) of long-term care at least five days a week, and usually more. The residents of long-term care have an average age of 90 and many are dealing with health issues that require 24-hour care.

She shows up just in time for dinner and prepares the plates and favorite drinks of around 20 tenants, engages each and every one of them in conversation and, after everyone is set, makes a plate herself and sits down to enjoy a meal with the residents she considers family.

Shirley works as a guidance counselor and registrar at Seattle Lutheran during the day, and often times shares stories of the adventures and achievements her younger friends are experiencing with Mount residents. She said working with teenagers during the day and spending time with the elderly in the evening is “a really neat balance.”

She is also an avid photographer who documents both the students’ lives at Seattle Lutheran and events at The Mount, including some very important moments for residents and their families.

“And in a number of cases those have been the last pictures they have as a family,” Shirley said. She always takes the time to bring several prints to a loved one’s funeral. “It is a real joy to be able to provide families with those.”

Shirley is the go-to photographer for Seattle Lutheran student sports and events as well, and makes a point to compile an album of photos for every graduating senior. Shirley, who has no children of her own, said, “The school and The Mount have become my family.”

Beyond helping out during dinner time, Shirley is a volunteer-of-all-trades who joins Mount residents on field trips and spends one-on-one time with several folks (especially those who don’t have regular visits from family). In coordination with her church, she even brings gifts on Christmas and Easter baskets on Easter.

Molly Swain, Mount Foundation and public relations director, said she met Shirley ten years ago when her own mother was there for a rehab stay. She said Shirley helps create a sense of community.

“We all like to sit around with our families … we eat better when there is conversation and smiles and a friendly face that remembers your name,” Swain said. “Shirley is connecting the staff, helping them and the residents, and just creating community while she is here.”

86-year-old Mount resident Beverly Plancich, who said she looks forward to Shirley’s visits daily, added, “She’s real dedicated; she is friendly and sweet and nice to everybody. I’ve never seen any sign of discrimination or nothing. She’s exceptional and someone we should all be proud of.”

Shirley plans to retire from Seattle Lutheran at the end of this school year. Her plan? As you may have guessed, more volunteering is on the docket – both at The Mount and Seattle Lutheran.

Swain said The Mount has over 200 active volunteers born anywhere from 1914 to 1998, and they are always looking for more. In 2011, they had 278 people volunteer a total of 29,447 hours with a financial value of nearly $630,000. Volunteers have been part of St. Vincent since they opened their doors in 1924.

For information on how to get involved, contact Storey Squires at storey.squires@providence.org or call 206-937-3701, ext. 28170.

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