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"Grandpa” Don Bellows has spent 15,000 hours serving the patients and families of Rady Children’s

Grandpa Don Rady Children's Volunteer

Don Bellows has been volunteering at Rady Children’s Hospital for 30 years

Don Bellows has become quite a familiar face around Rady Children’s. On any given day, the 92-year-old, who’s affectionately come to be known as “Grandpa Don” by Hospital staff, can be found guiding patients as they pick out library books, pushing wheelchairs around the Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children or helping out any other place he’s needed.

The retired mechanical engineer has been a fixture around the Hospital for three decades—and he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. “I just enjoy being over there,” he says. Bellows’ philanthropic spirit was sparked 30 years ago during a trip to see a relative who was being treated at Rady Children’s. “I liked the atmosphere of the Hospital,” he recalls. “Everyone, all the employees, seem to be acting in the best interest of the children. They would cuddle the children. They would speak nicely to them. They seemed like they really wanted to help the children get well.”

Bellows has committed several days a week to Rady Children’s and his volunteer duties include staffing the information desk where he directs patients, families and visitors; working in the Hospital library; and assisting at the Bernardy Center, the Hospital’s skilled nursing facility for kids and young adults with complex medical conditions and physical and developmental delays who need long-term multidisciplinary care.

“I enjoy the Bernardy Center because the kids stay there—they actually live there—and they’re there permanently. As a result, I get to know them,” he says.

He’s known around the Bernardy Center for being loyal and consistent and always asking what he can do to help. He enjoys walking with the patients, even if it’s just up and down the hallways. He helps get kids on and off the school bus and gets them ready for music therapy or other activities. He spends time with the center’s patients, learns their names, gets to know each one and even takes them on the occasional outing to a Padres game.

“He gives extra attention to the kids that don’t have visitors often,” says Leanne Kellett, LVN, who has worked with Bellows at the Bernardy Center for the past two years. “He’s always very kind and asks what he can do. He knows the kids by name, so he talks to them nicely.”

Bernardy Center’s long-time charge nurse Stacey Robinson, RN, says Bellows’ presence has a therapeutic effect on the patients, many of whom are profoundly disabled, wheelchair-bound and nonverbal. It’s apparent that he loves what he’s doing and enjoys his interactions with both patients and staff.

“Don has a calming influence,” she says. “He can walk a child who’s having a problem day around for hours and calm him down.” Although the pandemic put Bellows’ volunteering on hold temporarily, he’s back and couldn’t be happier. Bellows continues to work one day a week in the Hospital library and one day a week at the Bernardy Center. To date, he has logged a whopping 15,000 hours of volunteer work at Rady Children’s. But for Bellows, it’s not about the hours. “I just feel good about it. I don’t necessarily keep track of the time or the hours or anything—somebody else does that for me,” he laughs. “I don’t care that much about building up hours. I’ve gone over sometimes and not even logged in for some reason or another. I just want to be able to spend some of my time over there.” Bellows has found great joy in volunteering at Rady Children’s and plans to continue for as long as he is physically able. He says volunteering at Rady Children’s is a rewarding experience and urges everyone to volunteer if they are able to.

“Volunteering is good for anyone,” he says. “We work during our working life—we have to support a family—but then there comes a time when we have time to volunteer, and we should do that. It helps those who need it, and it also helps the volunteer themselves and gives them something, too—a reason to get up in the morning.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Rady Children’s Hospital, click here.