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Health Center Auxiliary seeks new volunteers to keep up good work

by Chris DeFrancesco - December 10, 2007

The Health Center Auxiliary, a group of volunteers that over the past four decades has contributed scholarship funds, awarded a grant to purchase equipment, established an on-site child care center, begun a collection of artwork, and established an endowed chair, is seeking new members.

The Auxiliary is behind much of what has become part of the Health Center’s fabric.

Dr. Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs at the UConn Health Center and dean of the School of Medicine, says the Auxiliary is “critically important to the well being of the schools here at the Health Center, as well as the John Dempsey Hospital and our physician practice.

“They enable us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do because of financial limitations,” Deckers says.

The group hopes to become better known among the University community.

Irene Engel, Auxiliary facilitator and longtime member, says, “The work is rewarding in that you know you’re making a difference for all who come here as patients, visitors, students, faculty, or staff.”

She wants it to be known that the Auxiliary is for the entire Health Center, not just John Dempsey Hospital, and that membership is not just for women but is open to all.

“We are looking beyond Health Center employees as we seek to expand our membership,” says Engel.

“We’d like to have input as to the direction we should be heading, to get the new, younger generation interested in our work, and also friends and family members who may be retired and might want to volunteer for our Auxiliary.”

A new color brochure and redesigned website are part of the Auxiliary’s campaign to raise awareness and expand its membership.

The brochures are available at the Health Center and at the thrift shop.

The Auxiliary website has information on how to join.

Despite the need for new members, the Auxiliary has made a significant impact. This year, for example, it awarded more scholarship money to more students than in any previous year.

Four medical students, two dental students, and a master of dental science student were each awarded $5,000 scholarships, and two master of public health students and two nursing students were each awarded $2,500.

Additionally, six Ph.D. students are sharing $5,000 in educational travel money.

This is a new Auxiliary award, providing financial support for Ph.D. students in biomedical science who attend advanced short courses at prestigious institutions.

The UConn Health Center Auxiliary advisory committee, a volunteer group.
The UConn Health Center Auxiliary advisory committee, a volunteer group.
Photo by Chris DeFrancesco

The master of public health, master of dental science, and nursing scholarships are also new this academic year.

A $500 Medical Student Merit Award and $500 Dental Student Merit Award bring the total to more than $50,000 in scholarships and awards.

“This support is very welcome and critical for the continued maturation of graduate programs at the Health Center,” says Gerald Maxwell, associate dean of the School of Medicine Graduate School.

For many, the most visible Auxiliary contribution is the Connucopia Gift Shop, which has been in business in the lobby of the main building since 1975.

The UConn Health Center Auxiliary Thrift Shop, at 290 Park Road in West Hartford, opened in 1993. Volunteers keep both shops operating.

The Health Center’s collection of artwork, started by the Auxiliary, has grown to more than 1,500 paintings, sculptures, quilts, photographs, and murals.

Linda Webber, the Health Center’s art curator, says, “The art supports the people who work here, the patients, the families, and the community. We think it gives the Health Center a visual power that makes people feel good.”

This summer, the Auxiliary awarded a $35,000 research grant to the Health Center’s core labs to invest in basic science research at the schools of medicine and dental medicine.

The new equipment includes a nano drop spectrophotometer, which enables scientists to determine the concentration of DNA or RNA using a very small sample, and a G-box chemiluminesence, which enables them to detect light signals associated with proteins and DNA extracted from cells.

“We are most appreciative of this grant to purchase equipment that will be of broad benefit to a broad spectrum of basic science and translational investigators,” says Dr. David W. Rowe, director for regenerative medicine and skeletal development in the School of Dental Medicine’s Department of Reconstructive Sciences.

And two years ago, the Auxiliary raised and donated $900,000 to fund the Joseph M. Healy Jr. Memorial Chair in Medical Humanities and Bioethics, held today by Audrey R. Chapman.

According to Engel, the UConn Health Center Auxiliary may be the only volunteer group in the country to have established an endowed chair.

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