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Faces of Weiss: Oncology volunteer Zelma Williams

Volunteer Zelma at Weiss“Good morning!” Oncology volunteer Zelma Williams calls down the Weiss hallways, Monday through Thursday. In her pink volunteer coat, she transports blood, wheelchairs, reports and supplies to and from the oncology department. Along the way, she passes patients who have become friends and staff who are like family.

Those people keep Williams coming back every day. “I meet people who don’t know their way to the clinics, and I help them. I see friends. I feel like I’m doing something, like it’s an accomplishment,” she says.

A petite woman with curly gray hair, Williams lives in a senior home about a mile from Weiss. She began volunteering at the hospital three years ago after speaking with Caren Perlmuter, geriatrics service line director, at a health fair at Uptown Bank. She volunteered first in the Senior Center, organizing mailings.

“Everybody was so nice. Caren was so nice. I needed to lose weight, and I needed to see a doctor. Everything I needed, Caren was there,” Williams says.

Perlmuter thinks highly of Williams, too. “Zelma is the example of what I would want to be like at her age. She is positive, gives off happy energy and uses her time to help other people.”

Soon after starting at Weiss, Williams decided that she wanted “more active” tasks and found her way to oncology. There, she sat in the reception area waiting for blood samples to bring down to the lab. Now she also answers the phone, accompanies patients to clinics, helps make charts and transports supplies.

She says she loves the work. “I like to use my mind. That’s what I’m out here for.”

Her work ethic comes from her grandmother, Williams says. At age 8, she moved from Chicago to Montgomery, Ala., to live with her grandmother, returning to Chicago at 19. During those years, she witnessed her grandmother’s independence and constant work canning vegetables, sewing blankets and making bread to support herself.

Throughout Williams’ own career—first as an order filler and then as a manager at a handful of local businesses—she volunteered at various hospitals, schools, WBEZ radio station and PBS Channel 11.

At Weiss, she enjoys the time she spends with patients. “I just try to carry on a conversation and listen to them. We don’t talk about religion or politics so it won’t get too heated,” Williams says. Those conversations give her “a reason to get up out of bed everyday. I feel good.”

Williams’ enthusiasm is contagious. Perlmuter calls her a “smart woman” and adds, “She chooses to approach every day in a positive way, despite aches and pains. I love her. She is a beautiful person.”

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