When Mary Belle Wooddy began volunteering at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital, the five-year survival rate for children with cancer was less than 60%. Wooddy, who has volunteered in the pediatric playroom for 35 years, has seen that survival rate rise to 80% along with a lot of other changes at the hospital.
Now, the 83-year-old resident of the Memorial area in Houston has hung up her blue volunteer jacket at MD Anderson. She's leaving behind hundreds of smiles she has brought to young patients' faces and is taking with her as many memories.
"I don't see myself as anybody special," Wooddy says. "I just hope I have helped the patients and parents a little along the way."
Making a difference
When Wooddy moved to Houston in the 1970s, she was looking for a way to contribute. She soon found that opportunity with her Tri Delta sorority alumni chapter, which had begun a pediatric volunteer program at the Children's Cancer Hospital.
Wooddy recalls that initially when she volunteered, the Children's Cancer Hospital didn't have a playroom designated for children.
"We would purchase toys as a sorority and play with children in the hospital stairwell, while they were waiting on doctor appointments or treatment," she says.
Since then, the importance of play has become a central focus for the children's hospital. With support from MD Anderson Children's Art Project, the Child Life Program was launched and a playroom was built in the pediatric outpatient clinic. Wooddy continued to volunteer and worked alongside child life specialists playing board games and making arts and crafts with the children.
"A lot has changed over the years. We used to make homemade ice cream with the kids and even had zoo animals come visit the playroom at times," says Wooddy. "Although we don't do that anymore, I would say it's grown in the right direction. I've really enjoyed working with the child life workers for all of these years."
Wooddy is one of MD Anderson's longest serving volunteers, clocking in more than 6,000 hours through the Department of Volunteer Services.
"Mary Belle Wooddy is the perfect example of a true volunteer. She has been a dedicated and loyal volunteer serving our pediatric patients selflessly all of these years. We will miss seeing her every Monday," says Catherine Caverly, Wooddy's volunteer coordinator at MD Anderson.
In today's society, so many things are instantaneous and committing to anything for three decades seems like an eternity, but not for Wooddy.
"The children inspired my dedication. As I played with them and tried to give the parents a few moments to themselves, I knew that the doctors, nurses and researchers were back there doing their jobs and making progress against the child's cancer," Wooddy says. "That gave me hope. It's been a wonderful ride."