Volunteer of the Year winners Mimi Coleman for Hasbro Children's Hospital (left) and Cherine Whitney for Rhode Island Hospital.
Volunteer of the Year winners Mimi Coleman for Hasbro Children's Hospital (left) and Cherine Whitney for Rhode Island Hospital.

Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children’s Hospital today named their 2020 Volunteers of the Year in an outdoor ceremony on the hospital campus. The 2020 Volunteers of the Year were North Kingstown resident Cherine Whitney for Rhode Island Hospital and Providence resident Mimi Coleman for Hasbro Children’s Hospital. 

“Volunteers, working alongside our dedicated employees, contribute countless hours to support our patients, visitors and staff,” said Rhode Island Hospital President Saul N. Weingart, M.D. “Whether they’re there to lend a helping hand to a visitor coming to see a loved one, or keeping a patient company through reading and conversation, our volunteers accentuate the personal touches we hope that all of our patients and visitors get to experience here.”

Whitney, a longtime college librarian, began volunteering in 2006 as part of the “Read to Me” program. She has since spent most of her time in the Samuels Sinclair Dental Center where her puzzles and read-alongs engaged patients and their siblings as they waited for appointments. She is known for her unique flair and colorful hats and clothing, which appealed to the young and developmentally delayed patients in the dental center. In 2007, Whitney was awarded the “Freedom to Innovate” award from Volunteer Services, for her creative engagement of patients.

When COVID caused Whitney to take a step back, she took her work home with her, penning stacks of thank you notes to staff for display throughout the units. In September, she returned to her work as a greeter, helping visitors find their way to patient rooms, and delivering books and magazines to units for patients along the way. She also cleans and organizes books donated to the hospital for patient use. In her 15 years, Whitney has contributed 875 hours, and she says, “Being of service is important to me. I want to make someone smile because you never know someone’s story.”

Coleman has focused her life’s work on children’s wellbeing, as a nanny, an after-school program and camp director, and at the Children’s Health Fund in New York, N.Y. She began volunteering at the hospital in February 2020, and in just over a year has served a remarkable 1041 hours. She started in the Pediatric ICU and Hasbro Surgical Services, then found a home in the Lawrence A. Aubin, Sr., Child Protection Center, which assesses and treats potentially abused children. Coleman felt herself pulled so strongly to the work of the center that she began to spend several full days per week volunteering, and her proactive, energetic commitment to her role eventually led to her recent hiring as a victim advocate. A letter submitted by one of her references for her volunteer application stated, “Mimi is a woman you cannot afford to let slip away! She is compassionate, bright, dependable and a natural caretaker. She fills any space she enters with joy.”

“These honorees demonstrate the best of our volunteers, going above and beyond,” said Adrianne Walsh, manager of volunteer services. “They are inspirational people, and both have shared their life’s calling with our patients, to their great benefit. With Cherine’s love of literacy, and Mimi’s nurturing nature with children, we are so fortunate to have them representing us.”

Despite the pandemic, in 2020, 489 volunteers gave nearly 32,000 hours to Rhode Island Hospital and its Hasbro Children’s Hospital. A small contingent stayed on to help as the hospital ramped up visitor screening in the spring, and many returned in limited roles in May 2020, though the full complement of volunteers returned in spring 2021 after the second surge.

Christina Spaight O'Reilly

Senior Public Relations Officer
Rhode Island Hospital