When Camille Kennedy enters patient rooms at Stanford Health Care, she is reminded of the isolation she felt when she was admitted to the hospital after an unexpected trip to the Emergency Department.
"When you end up in the hospital, you may find yourself in a place you did not plan to be," she said. "You think your life is going one way, and it takes a turn."
These days, Kennedy uses her experience as a patient as motivation to help break through the isolation other patients experience. Kennedy is executive director for Random Acts of Flowers Silicon Valley, an organization that delivers recycled flowers and encouragement to Stanford hospital patients each month, and to patients at hospitals and healthcare facilities throughout the Bay Area.
Random Acts of Flowers collects unused flowers from florists, grocery stores and flower markets throughout the Bay Area. Volunteers assemble all the flowers into new bouquets, then hand deliver them to patients.
"We are upcycling," Kennedy said. "Each week, we typically end up with between 4000 and 8000 stems of flowers. We use these to create hundreds of bouquets. Most flowers perk up, and we compost anything we don't use."
While the flowers provide a tangible gift for volunteers to give to patients, Kennedy feels the real value of Random Acts of Flowers is that it delivers a human connection to lonely patients.
"We are trying to combat isolation, and bring people together physically – not just digitally," she said. "Our volunteers talk with patients, give a handshake or a hug, and always a smile. That interaction and endorphin boost is really terrific for both the patient and the volunteer."
Many of these volunteers have personal experience with being a patient, and have found healing through helping other patients.
Between 2009 and 2010, Sandra Bachman spent four months in and out of Stanford Hospital. These were the hardest and scariest days of her life, and she now credits the hospital and staff for saving her life. Volunteering with Random Acts of Flowers has given her an opportunity to redeem her experience at the hospital and to give back.
"The first time I volunteered here, I held my breath as I walked into the hospital," she said. "I was anxious, and the trauma of my hospital stay came back. I had to build up courage before I delivered flowers to each patient."
By the end of that day, she had created positive memories in a place that had previously filled her with fear. She now looks forward to volunteering with Random Acts of Flowers at Stanford Hospital each month.
"Doing this has been incredible for me," she said. "When patients smile, it makes their families and friends smile, and it makes me smile. It's amazing how contagious it is. I get goosebumps every time."