A volunteer is someone who performs a service willingly, without pay.

But this is only a simplified definition of the word. For me, a volunteer is much more than that.

When I finish my shift as a volunteer at Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital, I feel gratified after spending my day helping people and bringing smiles to their faces.

There are many things you can do as a volunteer, although in my experience it’s about the people. They should always come first.

When someone enters the hospital, I smile and greet them with a friendly “Hello.” I offer a hot cup of coffee to those who are waiting. I aim to answer any questions they might have and I strive to help them find what they’re looking for.

It makes me feel good when I can help an individual exit their vehicle and slip into a wheelchair, so I can guide them into the emergency room. Sometimes, they’ll ask me not to leave and they’ll hold onto my hand.

When someone at the hospital is worried about their husband or their wife or a family member, I see it as chance to offer them a comforting word. Often they’ll respond with hug and say, “Thank you.”

It’s truly a reward to know you’ve helped someone in a time of need.

I also volunteer for the hospitality cart, where I go from room to room, helping patients and visitors feel more comfortable. I provide them simple items such as a warm blanket, a magazine, a word puzzle book, or even some ChapStick.

I’m also there for those who would just like someone to talk to. These moments are particularly special, as I often find I have much in common with a new friend. I especially enjoy knowing I made their day a little better.

I also love helping the nurses when they need assistance with a patient who’s headed home. I take the patient to their vehicle, help them secure their seat belt, and send them off with some friendly words: “Have a good day!”

I feel like I’ve made an impact when someone thanks me for helping, and I always enjoy the occasional handshake or small hug.

When you see a patient or a visitor at the hospital, it takes no work at all to smile and say, “Hello.” Most everyone will smile right back at you—and best of all, it will give you a great feeling to know you’ve done something to make someone’s day that much better.

There’s no need to consult a dictionary for the meaning of “volunteer.”

I simply know that I enjoy doing things that help others—saying “Good morning” to them, or offering a “Hello,” or “Good afternoon.”

The best part of it all is it’s a free service, and it makes a difference.