By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service

Methodist Rehabilitation Center gift shop volunteer Mary Ann Magruder assists Kristi Sessions with a purchase.

JACKSON, Miss.—Whenever a visitor makes a purchase at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center gift shop, that person is contributing to the Wilson Research Foundation.

In 2000, the volunteer-led gift shop turned a profit of more than $17,500. All of it was donated to the Wilson Research Foundation to help fund research into ways to improve recovery from spinal cord injury, brain injury and stroke.

It’s one of the many ways MRC benefits from the hard work of volunteers, said Sandra Walker, director of volunteer services. Of the nearly 100 volunteers that help around the hospital, about 20 work in the gift shop, she said.

Gift shop customers come from MRC and the University of Mississippi Medical Center. In business since October 1995, it’s been a place where patients, visitors and employees can feel like they’re not in a hospital for a little while, said the store manager, Terri McKie.

While McKie is a paid staff member, all of her “employees” are unpaid volunteers who run the cash register, stock shelves, fix displays and assist customers with their purchases.

“They’re the greatest bunch of people in the world,” Walker said of the volunteers. “They’re here because they want to be and they have the time and the desire to do it.” Volunteers range from former patients to homemakers to people who balance volunteering with careers, Walker said. “We have CPAs, fighter pilots, former CEOs, you name it,” she said. “We have a lot of good people.”

Grace Houston has volunteered in the MRC gift shop for about three years. When she was preparing for retirement, she knew she wanted to be involved in the community, she said. “I kept thinking, ‘What am I going to do when I retire?’” Mary Ann Magruder, a friend who was already volunteering, suggested MRC to her. “She said I would love it here and she was right,” Houston said. “I came down one rainy morning and met with Terri. Everyone was so nice to me.”

Houston said she didn’t feel she would be good working directly with patients themselves, so the gift shop became a great opportunity for her to contribute. “Since the gift shop proceeds go towards research, the work I’m doing here does benefit the patients,” she said.

The donation and the hard work are both greatly appreciated, said Bettye Sullivan, executive director of the Wilson Research Foundation. “Volunteers are a vital part of the work that goes on here at MRC,” said Sullivan. “A donation like this proves what a huge role they have in contributing to the research foundation. Every dollar helps.”

The good cause makes the gift shop an even more attractive place for guests of the hospital to spend their money, McKie said. “I think people want to shop here because they know the proceeds go to the Wilson Research Foundation. People know how important research is and that it can’t be stressed enough.”

The Wilson Research Foundation, the research fundraising arm of MRC, was established in 1989 after the H.F. McCarty Jr. Family Foundation and McCarty Farms donated $500,000 to honor the contributions that Earl and Martha Wilson have made to the physically disabled in Mississippi. Since then the Foundation has funded over $740,000 in grants for spinal cord injury, brain injury and stroke research. For additional information or to make a contribution for rehabilitation research, please call (601) 981-2611 or 1-800-223-6672.