Merced Matters: Spreading acts of kindness

06/01/2014 4:56 PM

06/01/2014 9:54 PM

There are few Merced community groups that Janice Wilkerson has not been part of.

Wilkerson’s official title is director of mission integration at Mercy Medical Center, but anyone who works around her knows she does so much more.

As director of mission integration, Wilkerson oversees the hospital’s community benefits program, spiritual services and volunteers.

She coordinates about 350 hospital volunteers – ranging from high school students working the lobby desk to adults helping at the outpatient centers.

One of her proudest achievements is co-writing a formal policy that identified nine ceremonies that Hmong shamans are able to perform at the hospital, Wilkerson said.

“I came to find out it was the first one ever written across the United States, so I was getting calls from all over; it was amazing,” she said.

Wilkerson also helps organize most of the hospital’s events and award ceremonies that recognize health care professionals in the community.

As a Merced native, Wilkerson believes it is her responsibility to give back to the community she has called home for the past 60 years.

She does not hesitate jumping on board with programs and events she is convinced can benefit others.

Wilkerson has been a member of Leadership Merced, has worked closely with the American Heart Association and has served on local tobacco and asthma coalitions – to name a few. Recently, she also completed training at Stanford University to become a chronic disease self-management leader trainer, so she will be better qualified to educate people with chronic diseases.

Wilkerson is also known to constantly display acts of human kindness.

A well-known story among her colleagues is one in which Wilkerson noticed a just-released patient in the parking lot who looked a little weak. Was the person OK to drive, Wilkerson asked.

Despite assurances everything was fine, Wilkerson decided to follow the person until she was sure the former patient arrived home safely.

“Of course, I had to get out of the car and assure the patient that I wasn’t a stalker, but I just wanted to make sure they would be OK,” Wilkerson said. “I didn’t even think about it. It just felt like the right thing to do. I feel like we miss a lot of opportunities to do nice things like that.”

But this doesn’t surprise Wilkerson’s closest friends. To them that’s just the type of person she is.

Kathleen Crookham, who was Wilkerson’s first-grade teacher and is now one of her best friends, said Wilkerson has always been known for her big heart.

“Janice is one of those people that teachers always love to keep track of, not only because she was a great student and a pleasure to have in class, but because she follows her dreams and does great things for the community,” Crookham said.

“There’s always this thought that the brightest will flee, but Janice is an example of someone who stayed in Merced and has made a huge difference,” she added.

Both Crookham and Wilkerson recalled an art project in which 8-year-old Wilkerson expressed her wishes about wanting to grow up to be a nurse.

“I did not become a nurse, but I did the next best thing,” Wilkerson said. “I’m in the health care field, and I get to help others – that’s pretty close.”

Tim O’Neill, owner of promotional products company Image Masters in Merced, has known Wilkerson for more than 20 years and has worked with her on several hospital marketing campaigns.

“I think the best thing about Janice is that she is genuine,” O’Neill said. “She’s a very positive person and has a great sense of humor.”

“Our paths have crossed many times at community functions, and it’s been a pleasure working with someone as dedicated and hardworking as her.”

Wilkerson said that besides spending time with her grandchildren, there is no other thing she enjoys doing more than her job.

“I would hope that I have made a difference in some little way,” Wilkerson said. “Maybe I made a patient’s day a little bit better or offered a helping hand to one of the employees or volunteers – making positive impacts, no matter how small, that’s what I think matters.”

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