Bernie Echo, president of the UVM Medical Center Auxiliary, one of the largest donors, talks about ways for anyone to get involved and different projects that they have funded over the years. Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

Learn more at the Auxiliary at the UVM Medical Center. 

UVM Medical Center: You might think the largest outright donor to the UVM Medical Center would be a very wealthy and generous individual, but it’s actually an organization. The UVM Medical Center Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is also the largest supporter of healthcare initiatives and services across the organization. They’re probably best known for running the gift shop here on the main campus and Replays Resale Shop in South Burlington.

They have about two hundred members from across the community and offer a variety of programs from providing baby car seats to running a lot of fundraisers and special events. Very active group. We wanted to learn more about it, so we’ve asked Bernie Echo to join us today. She’s the president and she’ll tell us more about the Auxiliary and how you can get involved. Thanks for coming.

Bernie Echo: First of all, I want to thank you for this opportunity to talk about the Auxiliary. An organization that I’m so proud to belong to, and obviously to be president is the cherry on the cake, and on the ice cream. Also, very proud of all the philanthropic work that we do. Thank you for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to talk about something that I’m very passionate about.

UVM Medical Center: It is a great organization as I indicated and you’ll tell us more. It’s made such a big contribution to the Medical Center, but not an organization that has blown its own horn a lot. A lot of people might not quite realize how involved you are and all the ways to get involved. Let’s start from the beginning. What is the role of the Auxiliary and what’s the size and shape of it?

Bernie Echo: As you mentioned there are two hundred members. Two hundred and three members to be exact, and our product is philanthropy. Our mission is to support the hospital mission through financial support and also services to the patient, the family and staff. That’s what we do. We raise money and the proceeds go to fulfill our mission.

UVM Medical Center: In terms of what gets to patients, there’s a variety of things. Why don’t you tell us about some of that?

Bernie Echo: For a patient, one example is the teddy bears that are provided when the children come to the ER. Obviously it can be traumatic, so just little things like that. We do what you mentioned, the car seats. We have car seat vouchers. We fund and stock the patients’ library. We have memorial services for infants that died before they were born. That’s lovely. Then, things such as the immigrant clinic, programs like that. The dental clinics. There’s a lot of small programs that come to us in need and the board of directors will review and make a decision. Most likely, when they come to us, it’s a need and a worthy cause and we will fund that. Those are the many, many small projects that we fund throughout the year.

UVM Medical Center: Let’s talk about some other things that you do. A lot of people have probably heard of the Replays gift shop, but might not have been there. You guys run that whole thing?

Bernie Echo: Replays is probably, I’m their best customer. It is our second-hand store. It’s at the Blue Mall on Dorset Street. You can find slightly used clothing, women’s, men’s, children, toys, furniture, anything for the kitchen. Name it, it’s there and it’s all really great, great merchandise. As a matter of fact, I just purchased a piece of furniture that came from Ethan Allen’s. Great, great find and it matches my dining room perfectly well.

I am one of the great customers. I encourage you to go there and not only to shop, but we do accept donations. We would love for you to bring donations and keep in mind that the donations that go there, the money is local. We keep it locally for the medical center. It does not go out of state. We’re a little bit different than others.

UVM Medical Center: Just so far, for people who are listening to this thinking, “Hey, I’d like to get involved,” you have this opportunity to do stuff that’ll help with patient care. You have Replays, which if you’re interested in volunteering, they need people to help run the store. What other kinds of activities could somebody plug into?

Bernie Echo: I’d like to talk about the gift shop here at the medical center, because that belongs to the Auxiliary as well. There’s many volunteers there as well, and Nancy Tiffany does a wonderful job in stocking and organizing that gift shop. That does well for us. Those two retail stores are really our major source of funding, that enable us to provide funds for philanthropic work. Especially, I’d like to boast a little bit here, we just pledged one million dollars to the in-patient facility that will be going up. We just concluded a quarter of a million dollars to the mother/baby, newborn nursery. That’s a mouthful. Prior to that, we did a half a million to cardiology, a million to breast care. Yeah, we are a big deal. Yeah, we do pass a lot of money.

UVM Medical Center: Makes a huge, huge impact. If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking to Bernie Echo. She is president of the UVM Medical Center Auxiliary. An organization that perhaps you haven’t heard of. It’s below the radar a little bit but as you’ve just heard, makes a huge impact. You are looking for more members. You have two hundred which sounds like a nice big number, but you’re always looking for more.

Bernie Echo:  Well, we are a good number, but we’re all about the same age. We need to recruit the millennials, younger and fresh ideas. Absolutely, we welcome men, women. We currently have a drive to recruit new members. The Auxiliary has changed throughout the years. It started as a group of doctors’ wives, ninety-five years ago, ripping up sheets for bandages. We have certainly come a long way from that, so we’re more business-minded and more looking at the philanthropy side of it.

Yeah, we welcome and encourage anyone to join us. There’s no firm commitment. You can volunteer or do as much as you want, or just enjoy our luncheon four times a year. We bring in a guest speaker from the hospital who talks about different sorts of things. It could be high-risk breast cancer, Dr. Ittleman just talked about cardiology. Very educational luncheons. You can just do that, we welcome your dues because the dues go to philanthropy.

UVM Medical Center: Well, the dues are quite modest.

Bernie Echo: They are very modest. For general admission it’s fifteen dollars or you can be a friend for twenty-five or the next level is fifty and I just had a brain cramp. I can’t think of the name of it. Yeah, it is very minimal.

UVM Medical Center: For more information on any of this, you can go to the medical center website, which is uvmhealth.org/medcenter. If you search on Auxiliary and I hope you learned to spell it in middle school the way I did, you can get a lot more information and can learn more about things. The millennial issue is something that faces a lot of organizations. It used to be a much stronger tradition of joining groups and volunteering in previous generations. Not so much in more recent generations. What’s your message to them? How do you think you’re going to tap into that group?

Bernie Echo:  First of all, with regards to the millennials because my children are millennials, and in today’s culture and environment, most women do work outside of their home. There’s a career. They’re career-minded and there’s a family issue. Yeah, it probably is a little problematic to join an organization but I think there are a lot of others that maybe are not as involved in a career. Just join us and just think of the philanthropic work that we do. It’s just such a great cause.

Rose Kennedy once said, “He who has much, must give much.” That’s who we are, and that’s part of our fabric. I think everyone, it’s in their DNA to give. That’s what we ask of the millennials. It doesn’t have to be a millennials, but generation X, generation Y, whichever.

UVM Medical Center: I’m not sure which one I belong to actually. I’ve got to look that up.

Bernie Echo: I’m a baby boomer. One of the items that I wanted to talk about is another that we fund and we’re very proud: the nurse’s scholarships. Yearly, we do give out scholarships to existing nurses at the Medical Center to further their education. That’s something we’re very proud of as well.

UVM Medical Center: It is a really impressive array of things as I’m sitting here listening to you talk about time commitment. It strikes me that people can do as much or as little as they want.

Bernie Echo: Exactly. As I said you can just come to the luncheon or just donate a couple hours a month. Whatever your schedule allows. Obviously people like me who are retired, we have all the time in the world, but I do understand because I too, at one time, was a working mom with a career and it was difficult. However, I did volunteer, not as much as I do now, but I did find the time to volunteer and give. It makes you feel wonderful. It makes you feel really good, that you’re doing something for the community.

UVM Medical Center: Why the Medical Center for you?

Bernie Echo: That’s a very good question. I was asked to join the board. I certainly have no medical experience. I come from a corporate world. Then when I saw all the things that were done and the philanthropy and the volunteers and I said, “Wow. I want to be part of this.” I was really wowed. That’s why I’m here. I think anyone that would give it an opportunity to see what we do, would be just as wowed and want to join us.

UVM Medical Center: I think it’s something we face too as an organization that people think of us as the local hospital – which we are – and they have a vague idea of what an academic medical center is. When they learn, when we bring community members in here, and they spend some time and they meet some of our physicians and they understand the range of research and everything else, they really come away saying, “This is a much more important resource than I realized before.” Then they can tap into it through your organization. It’s a nice learning opportunity and then a giving opportunity.

Bernie Echo: Absolutely, yeah. I personally have had experience with surgery last year, and I’d tell you, the nurses and the staff are second to none. I just went through genetic testing, which I was never familiar with and actually, it so happened that our event last year, Bushels of Baskets, we donated the proceeds to high-risk breast cancer. Here I am months later, utilizing that service. I think just, we are a phenomenal hospital and the doctors and nurses are second to none. I am so impressed.

UVM Medical Center: They are absolutely wonderful. Just a minute or so left, what’s next? What are you working on right now in terms of events or other efforts that you want to talk about?

Bernie Echo: Our current event is the Bushels of Baskets, which will take place October 23. Businesses donate the baskets. It could be a basket with an iPad, different technology. I mean, they’re very generous baskets, and usually we have sixty to seventy. It’s an afternoon tea. You can have coffee of course, or other drinks, with finger food, so it is really a fun, fun event. With the ticket you receive ten raffle tickets. Of course, you can buy additional.

It’s a fun afternoon. We are looking to perhaps do another event. This is really our signature event, so we want to do another event now that that one is working very well. We’re very fortunate with Replays and the gift shop that our major source of funding is there. That’s where the most money comes from.

UVM Medical Center: Yes – a consistent source of money. I’m very glad you joined us and we learned more about this. We’re very lucky to be in a community where there is a lot of philanthropy. A lot of people who support us. We couldn’t do what we do without it. It’s really nice, I think, for people to join the Auxiliary because it’s done as more of a social thing.

Bernie Echo: Camaraderie, social, yeah. I have meetings at my house and we have wine and cheese, and we discuss business. Just that nice camaraderie with our main goal of philanthropy for the hospital. It really is so satisfying. We are so fortunate that we’re able to do that. There’s a lot of people that are less fortunate that need us and we’re there.

UVM Medical Center: That’s a great way to end it. The president of the UVM Medical Center Auxiliary has been our guest today – Bernie Echo. Thanks so much for joining us.

Bernie Echo: Thank you.

UVM Medical Center: For more information on the UVM Auxiliary and other services and programs here, please go to uvmhealth.org/medcenter and of course, don’t forget to check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

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