Angela Berns

Manager of Volunteer Services at St. Luke’s Cedar Rapids
The Woman Who Makes it Happen!

By Jodi Harris

When I meet someone who “makes it happen” I can immediately tell that they have the drive to do anything they put their mind to. Angela Berns is one of those people.
She graduated from UNI with a degree in Communications – Production and Performance for TV. In her senior year of college, she took an intern position with KGAN in Cedar Rapids, and quickly realized it was not the kind of work she wanted to do as a career.

She’s had many jobs over the years trying to find her true calling. Previous jobs included office management, catering, marketing, placement agent for a temp agency, and eventually commercial billing with MCI. At MCI she was caught in a massive layoff, and still had no idea what she wanted to do for the rest of her work life. Fortunately, this turned out to be a huge blessing. To pass the time while looking for new work, she went from her once a week, four-hour volunteer job at a local hospital, to volunteering whenever she was needed. Angela has been an active lifelong volunteer in the Cedar Rapids areas for a variety of non-profits. Volunteering has always been her true passion. She has fond memories of volunteering for many years at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids. A place she could walk to after school and volunteer for several hours a week. She soon came to love the hospital environment and being of service to others.

During the time she was searching for a job, the Manager of Volunteer Services at St. Luke’s Hospital asked her to apply for a Volunteer Coordinator position there. To her delight she was hired in May of 2006. She never dreamed she could do something she loved so much as a career, but that is exactly what happened.

Angela has been working with WRAP since 2006 when she started at St. Luke’s Hospital as the RSVP, (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) Volunteer Coordinator. Since the group formed in 2004, the organization has blossomed into a well-oiled machine that is fueled by a group of enthusiastic volunteers whose goal is to help people resolve accessibility problems and easily get in and out of their homes. She believes in WRAP, and she even got a little teary when I asked how she felt about the program.

“WRAP is an incredible organization that was born out of the purest, most genuine desire to serve other people. The people WRAP helps are those who were trapped in their homes and were not living a quality life until WRAP became the solution. I am proud of the many, many volunteers who have given these people the freedom to live a much higher quality of life.”

She explains that WRAP began with a hand full of volunteers who stored all their building supplies in or behind their garages. After a few months in her position as RSVP Volunteer Coordinator, John McDonough, one of her volunteers, and a founding father of WRAP, and Heidi Soethout, a representative from the Department of Corrections, 6th Judicial District asked her to attend a WRAP Coalition meeting. WRAP was still a coalition and had several people from various community organizations vested in WRAP’s success. When Angela joined them, they described their group as a “runaway bus”, and they wanted her to be their bus driver and leader to help them get going on their goals.

WRAP was born out of needs realized by a Rockwell Collins retired volunteer group called RCRV (Rockwell Collins Retired Volunteers). They were donating their services by doing safety inspections for the elderly. They observed that many elderly people were unable to leave their homes due to mobility issues. Those concerns sparked conversations with Aging Services, and they realized that many of these people could not leave their homes to fulfil their basic needs. They were unable to get to medical appointments, get their own groceries, get their mail and other critical tasks. The volunteers who realized this dilemma for the elderly shared their concerns with the rest of their group and began to think of ways they could help.

They designed and installed the first ramps together and began to hold monthly meetings to bring more awareness to people in positions of authority who could help. WRAP had been meeting for about three years when Angela was asked to join and lead the team. Some of her contributions have included formalizing processes, finding donors, (with the largest being St. Luke’s), solving staffing issues, developing marketing, and getting help with a website for the organization.

Since then, together with many wonderful volunteers, she has accomplished multiple milestones for which she is very proud.

  • Obtained warehouse space to store ramp materials and supplies.
  • Worked to add one paid part-time employee in 2007.
  • Found WRAP office space for their employee at the hospital in 2008.
  • Aided in helping WRAP become a 501c3 in 2010.
  • Found assistance to make the WRAP website a reality in 2010 and to redesign it in 2020.
  • Recruited volunteers to upgrade WRAP’s website and add content, including this blog.

Angela says on a day-to-day basis she feels like she does very little for the WRAP program but looking back there have been so many little things that have added up to the incredible organization it is today. To date the group has built 423 wooden ramps, removed 110 wooden ramps, in addition to installing and removing aluminum ramps, handrails, and they have also built wide steps to help with accessibility for many others.

If you are part of WRAP, you may think that it is the only program Angela is working on, however that is not the case. WRAP is just one of the programs that she oversees and continues to recruit volunteers for, who are qualified for the jobs they do. Currently she is President of IHAV (Iowa Hospital Auxiliary and Volunteers) a membership group of IHA, (Iowa Hospital Association) that supplies continuing education and networking opportunities for Iowa hospitals volunteer leaders.

She had been in her position for just ten months when her supervisor came to her and said she was going to retire. She strongly encouraged Angela to apply for her position, Manager of Volunteer Services at St. Luke’s. Angela applied for the job thinking there was no chance she would be considered as a candidate after being with St. Luke’s for such a short time. In July of 2007, she was chosen for the job.

Manager of Volunteer Services for St. Luke’s of Cedar Rapids

She began fifteen years ago and some of her responsibilities have included:

  • Overseeing the big picture for the volunteers for the entire hospital
  • Constantly being innovative in discovering new ways to be of service to the hospital
  • Determining the volunteer staffing needs for the jobs available and creating a balance of skilled volunteers for each job
  • Figuring out the specific needs of each department and ensuring that specialized training is given to the volunteers for those positions
  • Ensuring that each volunteer is treated like team members.
  • Being flexible and able to accept, embrace, and facilitate changes at a moment’s notice to best serve the hospital departments and staff
  • Staying current on new trends and information and technology as it relates to volunteer services
  • Offering volunteers, a quality experience and ensuring that they are assigned to a job that fits their skills, and placing them in positions that are of the greatest value to every department
  • Serving on several local, state, and national boards
  • Receiving volunteer management certificates at the hospital and international levels
  • Successfully manages a local, state, and nationally recognized volunteer program

When asked how she manages to do it all, Angela says,

“I am blessed to have a great team that works together to achieve all the things we do to support St. Luke’s mission of “giving the healthcare we want our loved ones to receive”.

During the fifteen years in her position, Angela has seen much change.

In 2013 the Iowa Health System, which St. Luke’s Hospital Cedar Rapids belongs to, rebranded to UnityPoint Health to be more inclusive of their healthcare expansion into Illinois and Wisconsin. This also led the health system to create one set of values that all eleven hospital regions would operate under. UnityPoint Health has a vision for health care, and it starts with you: “Best outcome for every patient every time.”

UnityPoint Health’s core purpose is to improve the health of the people and communities they serve. This aligns with the mission of WRAP, Building accessibility one ramp at a time for those in need in the Linn County area and beyond…” As a result, WRAP has supplied guidance to people all over the world in building safe home access for their loved ones. Service to others is at the very center of what volunteers with WRAP and St. Luke’s do every day.

During our conversation, Angela also noted that she has seen a lot of great teamwork and kindness at St. Luke’s over the years. She mentioned the Flood of 2008 when Mercy Hospital had to transfer all their patients to other locations due to the damage they sustained. She remembered that St. Luke’s was the only hospital in town for almost two weeks while Mercy recovered and reopened. She also said they took care of as many of Mercy’s patients as they could and absorbed many of their staff to allow them to continue working through the disaster and to continue to provide excellent care for everyone.

The pandemic has been “Incredibly altering,” she said, in what used to be the healthcare norm. So many things have changed with the added precautions, work from home status, and all the changes that had to happen, literally overnight, in the way they care for their patients. Angela said that for two months, at the beginning of the pandemic, no volunteers were allowed in the hospital. This gave Angela and her team an opportunity to overhaul each assignment as they were brought back to better serve the hospital. She said all the changes have expedited efficiencies and improved their procedures. “I am extremely impressed with the way St. Luke’s managed the pandemic.”

Then came the Derecho. St. Luke’s took excellent care of their staff during the recovery of the storm and continued to deliver their high standards of caring for each patient, employee, and volunteer afterward. St. Luke’s rises to every challenge and learns from them to provide the very best healthcare to the community they can. It’s amazing to see innovation, pride, and love of community in action.

Today, the hospital continues to make improvements and to utilize each employee and volunteer efficiently.

Angela smiled as she told me about the labor pool. She said that she and most of the other employees were asked to help in other departments one or two days each week to cover staffing shortages during the latest COVID surge of Omicron. Last week you might have found her in the cafeteria doing dishes or serving customers, tomorrow you may find her doing whatever else needs done. Afterall, that is the kind of person she is. The one who does whatever it takes to make everything work out…

By volunteering you have given the most expensive and priceless gift anyone could have ever given – kindness and love.

Thank you!