Allen Hicks spends as much as 40 hours a week trying to wipe out iodine deficiency disorder around the world. He does it without pay, in addition to his busy full-time position as senior adviser for St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Services in Indianapolis.
Hicks is one of many healthcare executives who, despite demanding schedules, find time to make a difference in their communities and around the world through volunteer service organizations.
Some of these organizations are deep-rooted and go as far back as the turn of the century. Volunteers of America, for example, recently celebrated its centennial. The Shriners of North America is more than 120 years old. And Kiwanis International is just two years shy of its 80th anniversary.
Hicks was appointed Kiwanis International's service chairman in September of last year, with a leadership position in a campaign to eliminate iodine deficiency disorder by the year 2000. Hicks has been an active member of Kiwanis International since 1963 and has held several leadership positions on international and local levels.
The World Summit for Children in 1990 targeted iodine deficiency disorder as one of 10 priorities, with an estimated price tag for preventive care of $75 million. So far, Kiwanis has raised about
$5 million, and Hicks said he's confident the rest will follow.
"One teaspoon of iodine will take care of a child for life," he says. "The breakdown comes to 5 cents per child. This is why we chose this particular program. The cost per person is low, the return is high and the goal is achievable."
Although Kiwanis International is responsible for the fund raising, it's not the sole crusader. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, takes applications from countries in need of assistance. Each country determines its need, then UNICEF submits the application to the Kiwanis International Advisory Board, which makes the allocation of funds.
Some 44 countries have applied so far, with an estimated need of
"UNICEF is the only one we could have partnered with because of their worldwide locations and their commitment to the guarantee that the funds are used for legitimate purposes," Hicks said.
Hicks feels personally rewarded for the time he spends on the project. "If we can eliminate a problem that causes 5 million children mental retardation, then that is a great cause," he said. "Kiwanians want to help children." In fact, the organization's worldwide motto is "Small Children-Priority One."
Hicks also finds time to be a Shriner. Although he's not actively participating at the moment, he does manage to attend monthly meetings.
Among the 610,000 other Shriners volunteers is Tom Schneider, administrator for the Shreveport, La., unit of Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children. In his free time, he assumes the identity of Keystone Kop, one of many Shriners clowns.
Although Schneider is employed by a Shriners hospital, he isn't obligated to volunteer his time and spirit to the Shriners' El Karubah Temple in Shreveport. But he does, and gladly. "It didn't take me long to see the dedication and commitment by Shriners Hospital. You see this in everyone from the van drivers who transport the children to the wives of other Shriners. I wanted to be more than an employee, and I never gave it much thought until I was directly exposed," Schneider said.
The 1996 budget for the 22 Shriners hospitals is $419 million. That consists of an operating budget of $334 million, including $20 million in funding for research at Shriners Hospitals, and a construction and equipment budget of $85 million. All the money is raised through the efforts of Shriners volunteers, gifts and donations.
Schneider, who took on the role of a Shriners clown more than two years ago, has touched many lives through his participation in countless parades and fund-raisers. "I realized how gratifying it is to see that you make another person feel good. It makes you feel good," Schneider said.
In addition to providing free medical care, Shriners has a commitment to research. Through the group's affiliation with universities such as Harvard, it has been able to develop advanced treatments. "We can't make a difference for everyone, but we are sure going to try," Schneider said.
Shahab Dadjou, vice president of Sutter/CHS in Sacramento, Calif., and chief executive officer of Sutter Continuing Care, is a board member for Volunteers of America because he shares the same sentiments. "We need to be involved in community organizations so we can set an example not only for our colleagues but the children as well. A community is not only a place to live in but a place you help build."
Chuck Gould, national president of the VOA, said the group offers more than 150 programs ranging from affordable housing to foster care to employment assistance for former prison inmates, the homeless and the disabled.
VOA was founded in 1896 by Christian social reformers Ballington and Maud Booth, the same family that started the Salvation Army. In the past 15 years, VOA has moved toward outside direction, community involvement and public accountability.
The group says it's the country's largest not-for-profit provider of affordable housing for low-income families and the elderly. It has provided about 113 apartment complexes in 21 states, housing close to 30,000 residents
VOA also focuses on providing foster care for children and has a growing emphasis on assisted-living facilities, such as the Homestead at Maplewood in St. Paul, Minn.
Revenues in 1995 reached $357 million, with 87% of that spent on direct services and 13% on administrative expenses and overhead. While Shriners eschews government funds, VOA, with 9,000 employees and 20,000 volunteers, is 70% government-funded. With its motto of "Whatever it Takes," VOA serves nearly 2 million Americans every year.
Dadjou sits on three VOA boards. He serves as vice chair on the local Sacramento board and also is on the national board of the Health Services Division and the VOA national corporate board.
"I'm truly impressed with the diversity of VOA's services and the fact that their mission is to do whatever it takes to help people," he said. "Another reason is the values that this organization is built upon. They accept everyone regardless of race, color, age or religion."
Dadjou said he's seen the difference VOA has made on a personal level. A friend of Dadjou's suffering from multiple sclerosis has received care through VOA that a healthcare organization could not have provided.
One program that stands out for Dadjou is a horticultural nursery in Sacramento run by VOA. It employs people who lack education, former prison inmates and the homeless. The wages are minimal, but the workers receive job training and are given the chance to gain self respect and dignity. Currently there are 11 employees at the nursery.
"VOA's services are innovative and creative," Dadjou said. "Instead of creating a cookbook to healthcare across the country, they evaluate communities and determine their greatest need and respond to it."
Perhaps the philosophy of these three men is best summed up by a fable written by Irv Furman that hangs on the wall in Schneider's office. "The Starfish" tells of an older man taking starfish from the sand and throwing them back into the water so they will be spared from the hot sun. A young man who's watching asks the older man why he spends so much time doing this, since there are millions of starfish on beaches, and all of them cannot possibly be saved. As he throws another starfish into the safety of the sea, the older man responds, "I make a difference to this one."