If there were an Olympic medal for volunteering, it would certainly go to long-time Santa Clara resident Arline Norsworthy. Every Thursday night for 46 years she has volunteered in O’Connor Hospital’s emergency room – keeping children entertained and providing a friendly voice, or simply compassionate listening, for patients and their families.
Last month O’Connor honored the energetic 93 year-old during National Volunteer Week for 10,000 hours of community service. The first National Volunteer Week was instituted by President Richard Nixon in 1974, and has been proclaimed annually by every president since. President Obama declared April 10 through 16 as Volunteer Week 2016.
Norsworthy says that volunteering in the ER lets her touch people’s lives in a special way. “I keep children occupied while a parent is receiving care. I also comfort those in the waiting room with kind words or to just listen – remembering all the kindness I received when my husband, Lamar, was ill and after he died.”
Norsworthy began working at O’Connor Hospital as a PBX operator in 1942 on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift. After work, she attended beauty school – later operating her own salon while raising children. After WWII, she and her husband bought a lot in Santa Clara – it was cheaper than San Jose, she says. Lamar built the house Arline still lives in.
After Norsworthy’s husband was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) she cared for him at home until he died. She went back to O’Connor Hospital the same year, but now as a volunteer.
“Because of my husband’s illness, I want to help patients and their families at their time of need, like so many people did for me,” she says. “I might bring patients magazines while they wait or just chit chat. These simple acts help relieve the anxiety and stress of an emergency room trip, she explains.
“It’s such a pleasure to help somebody,” she says, adding, “I hope I can do it until I’m 100.” At the rate she’s going, she probably will.