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Volunteer Spotlights: Mary Sayler & Mary Ellen Kavanaugh

Mary S. and Mary Ellen K. Volunteer Spotlight

Last year, at least 250 community members contributed their time and talents to Institute programs. Here are just two of these extraordinary volunteers who are so crucial to the work we do!

Mary Sayler

Mary Sayler (above left) has been volunteering with the International Institute of Minnesota’s Medical Career Advancement (MCA) and citizenship programs since 2018.

What is your favorite part of volunteering at the International Institute?

My favorite part of volunteering is helping someone who came from another country become a nurse to improve their own life, their family’s lives and ultimately the lives of their patients. In the medical profession, we need diversity in caregivers and the MCA program at the Institute helps to provide that. As a nursing instructor, I have seen first-hand how my own students have impacted patients from other cultures. When a patient sees a health caregiver who looks like them, they are often more trusting and likely to follow the plan of care.

One of my students cared for a patient from Thailand who would not eat or drink and refused care from his other caregivers. This student was also of Asian descent and told me the patient’s eyes lit up when he saw her and she was able to connect with him. He agreed to the tests the providers wanted to perform and he took his meals and was able to feel comfortable and cooperate with his plan of care. It was by coincidence that this student was assigned the patient, but it was a fortunate experience for all involved.

Do you have any special memories from your volunteer experience? 

I have a very special memory of one of the nursing students that had difficulty passing her exit exam to graduate. She and I worked together and when she called to tell me she passed, I know we both cried tears of happiness! She said I was the first call she made and that engulfed my heart with joy that she would think of me. Today we are continuing to work toward her NCLEX nursing license.


Mary Ellen Kavanaugh

Mary Ellen Kavanaugh (above right) has been volunteering in our English department’s Conversation Circles and the Hospitality department’s Dietary Aide Training since December 2019.

What is your favorite part of volunteering at the International Institute?

I have so many “favorite” reasons for volunteering: the organization is so well-run and has a longstanding reputation in the community, the English language learners are so bright and enthusiastic and generous in sharing themselves, and the staff is top-notch! I am always happy when I am doing this work.

Do you have any special memories from your volunteer experience? 

One special moment happened recently in a Conversation Circle. We were talking about music and one learner, who was relatively new, told us she was studying vocal music. Others asked what that meant. When I asked if she was a singer, she said yes. I, somewhat jokingly, asked if she would sing us something.

With a little prodding, she turned on some classical-sounding music and opened her mouth, and out came the most beautiful heartwarming aria from an opera from her home country!  Everyone in the class was stunned and moved by the beauty of her music. Her gift created such a lovely connection among all of us in the group.

Thank you

Volunteers, we are so grateful for you. Thank you for being so dedicated to the Institute’s programs.

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