Volunteering: It’s a Lifestyle

When you first begin considering the idea of volunteering, the simple thought might be overwhelming for a busy healthcare professional who’s trying to balance obligations at work, at home, at church, in the clinic, on campus and across a host of other areas. It’s no surprise that many of us in healthcare would steer far

Robert W. Dettmer, MD, with Susan L. Dettmer, RN, LCSW

When you first begin considering the idea of volunteering, the simple thought might be overwhelming for a busy healthcare professional who’s trying to balance obligations at work, at home, at church, in the clinic, on campus and across a host of other areas. It’s no surprise that many of us in healthcare would steer far away from volunteering because there are just not enough hours in the day, not to mention enough margin in our schedules.


However, I’ve come to understand that volunteering for us is a lifestyle—and it’s a lifestyle the Scriptures challenge us to pursue throughout our lives. It’s reflected in verses like Acts 20:35, which says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (ESV). Or in Hebrews 13:1-2, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (ESV). These verses only scratch the surface of how serving others was a constant theme throughout Jesus’ ministry. So, if we strive to obey God’s call on our lives, using the skills God gave us to serve others is an important aspect of our walk with Christ.


In our experience, the most important step in developing a lifestyle of volunteering was actually taking the first step and getting involved. To offer examples of how you can get involved volunteering in your community wherever God has you planted, I’ve outlined below the volunteering both my wife and I have been involved in throughout our careers, which allowed us to make a positive impact on our community. Looking back, it’s incredible to see how God directed our steps over the years, as well as how He continued to lead and guide our work even as we moved into our retirement.



During my medicine residency and nephrology fellowship, I was employed part-time at Summerford Nursing Home by the owner, Bobby Summerford. I witnessed and was able to participate in his goal of treating his patients like family. He hosted special events, such as ice cream socials and watermelon parties, primarily from produce grown on their own farm. He created wheelchair-friendly paths around beautiful flower gardens for the residents to enjoy. It was my first foray into volunteering, as I witnessed a type of patient care and was shown the value of an often-forgotten population. The lessons I learned there stayed with me as I began my practice as a nephrologist serving our growing patient population.


My journey into local community activities began when a physician friend asked me to let my name stand for secretary of the Fort Wayne Medical Society (FWMS). In the years that followed, I served as board member, leading to serving as president of the FWMS. I led the renovation and fundraising for a downtown building that would serve both as the home of the Fort Wayne Medical Society and Three Rivers Neighborhood Health Services (TRC). The TRC was started by a pediatrician to provide low-income well baby visits (later supported by the FWMS), and it was then expanded to add prenatal care and other services for low-income clientele. As we undertook fundraising, I discovered how little I knew—and it was apparent to those around me! Fortunately for me, a seasoned volunteer with the Fort Wayne Community Foundation came alongside me. She recognized a young man who was in over his head and offered to mentor me. Her assistance mattered, because the TRC ultimately became a Federally Qualified Health Center, a major provider of low-income healthcare in our community.


Some years later, a surgeon friend invited me to join him in volunteering at Matthew 25 Health and Care, a privately supported, free clinic for low-income clientele in Allen County, Indiana that provides both medical and dental care. I volunteered by staffing a monthly hypertension clinic. This ultimately led to a board position within the organization, and I continue to serve on the Board of Directors many years later. A great mentor and surgeon friend was my encourager over numerous years at this clinic. Having been the recipient of mentorship and provider of volunteer care, I realized how much our community had given us, leading to a broader interest in other community foundations and board positions.


For my wife Sue, volunteering began as it does for countless other young moms, both at school and church. When two of our four children left for college, Sue began volunteering at TRC, using her nurse training that had been dormant for 10 years. Her time volunteering at the TRC was eye opening and rewarding, considering there was much to learn about effectively serving and working with low-income clientele with incredibly limited resources. A TRC social worker coached Sue and helped her gain insight into the lives and thinking of patients living in generational poverty, which helped Sue uncover an interest previously unrealized. Her skill sets grew quickly, along with her love of the clientele. The time at TRC led to Sue earning a master’s degree in social work (MSW), and one of her internships was spent at TRC.


After graduation, Sue spent some years in the private sector, where she carved out one-third of her time for Medicaid clients. During this time, several of the therapists mentored her as she offered individual and group therapy with adolescents under house arrest. Once again Sue saw the importance of learning from mentors to understand the complicated lives of chronically stressful households. As strange as it sounds, parenting classes for parents who had lost their children due to abuse or neglect was a highlight of the classes she offered. For Sue, it became a joy to work with the people in these difficult situations. When she no longer wanted to counsel early mornings or evenings, she retired from private practice and found that opportunities to serve were plentiful in the community. She committed to volunteer in our church’s counseling ministry three to four days a week depending on the need. Over time she scaled back to two days a week, and that arrangement continued for nine years.


When I retired from medical practice, I worked in an administrative position with a dialysis company that I found to be a wonderful change of pace, without night call and weekends. In addition, I could engage in my aviation hobby and met numerous new medical personnel as the company acquired dialysis facilities in several southern states.


Following this time, a close friend from church contacted me because she was alarmed at some of the things her 12-year-old grandson listened to on the radio. She had worked many years with WBCL, a Christian FM radio station affiliated with Taylor University, which previously had initiated a chat center where teens could share their internal struggles. Her vision was to establish a non-profit organization to host a web-based radio station 24 hours a day that chatted by text with teens in the area and, as time passed, all over the country. I love startups, so we jumped in financially, with Sue and I both serving on the board. Four years later, Remedy FM became Remedy Live, using trained “Soul Medics” to text with teens across multiple time zones, having meaningful conversations, giving hope, offering encouragement and sharing the Good News! Today, it plays a major role in addressing the mental health epidemic afflicting our society, especially the teen population.


Our son Tom, a psychologist, served on the board of a woman’s residential facility known as A Friend’s House. Women whose psychological issues compromised their independent living chose to participate in a nine- to 12-month program including weekly counseling. Tom thought Sue would be perfect to work with the women in this program. She initially declined as the facility was 30 miles away; however, God had other plans! The director of A Friend’s House asked Sue to meet for coffee to guide her in addressing some difficult issues with clients. After several conversations, it seemed best for her to meet the staff and see how the program was run. Sue left the facility that day committing to one to two days a week until they found a full-time counselor. Sue eventually ended up volunteering there for eight years!


At another point, I was asked to serve on a foundation board resulting from the sale of our downtown Catholic hospital, which was a great fit with my other community experiences. Because of my service on multiple boards, there were occasional conflicts of interest, like when a grant request was submitted from an organization on whose board I was a member. Recusal was always granted when voting. A highlight of this board was frequent site visits to its grantees, especially when leadership or services changed. I found this to be valuable in understanding our community and its services.


Meanwhile, after she finished her volunteering at our church, Sue received texts and emails from friends seeking a counselor for themselves or a friend. And as God does, He tugged at her heart to stay active in counseling, and He even provided an office. One of Sue’s clients knew she was no longer counseling at the church, so she offered space at her office gratis and Sue volunteered her counseling. It was a wonderful arrangement. Sue would text her that she had scheduled appointments, and her client would make it work at her office. It was yet another way to volunteer!


She loved the mix of seeing believers and non-believers. Sue has always understood that God had given her a heart for the unbeliever. All the years at TRC and in private practice cemented the love of people with difficult situations, with a hole in their heart, needing someone to mentor them in how they see the world. When Sue’s client who generously offered her office changed locations, Sue began to meet at coffee shops, our home or via Zoom.


Another opportunity to serve presented itself when I was asked to serve on the Ivy Tech Regional Community College Board serving northeast Indiana. I thoroughly enjoyed helping to develop and expand services in our region, meeting countless people involved in the vocations that make our nation work efficiently. After 14 years and the retirement of our Regional Chancellor, I retired and left the position to a younger individual. Although I believe that volunteering is applicable to all ages, some board positions are better served by younger people.



Sue would say that somewhere along the way in the last 40 years the purpose of volunteering shifted from diversion (from raising children) to satisfaction of using our professional skills to volunteering as God’s calling and a way of living.


I certainly agree with that statement. I would add that, as Sue and I have grown in our faith, stepping up, getting involved and serving seems natural to both of us. Living in the same community for nearly 50 years gives us a sense of pride in where we live and a desire to see its most vulnerable protected and cared for. It is a wonderful way to express gratitude, while strengthening our faith. I have a desire to give back, since we have been given so very much and it provides a sense of purpose and joy after retirement.


Reflecting on the idea of volunteering, God calls each of us in a variety of different ways, frequently through friendships, changing and growing our hearts as we follow Him, occasionally into roles for which we don’t initially feel prepared.


“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

—1 Timothy 6:17-19, ESV



Get Involved

CMDA offers a variety of volunteering opportunities across our various ministries, such as through mission trips, advocacy efforts, local council leadership and more. To learn more about volunteer opportunities through CMDA, or how you can get involved in your local area, contact CMDA at communications@cmda.org.



About the Authors

Robert W. Dettmer, MD, is a retired nephrologist also certified in internal medicine. Dr. Dettmer studied at Indiana University School of Medicine, and he completed his internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana and his residency in internal medicine and nephrology fellowship at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He has served as past president of the Fort Wayne Medical Society (1984 to 1985). He is a member of the Indiana State Medical Association, American Medical Association and other medical societies. Dr. Dettmer is also a licensed pilot. Susan L. Dettmer, RN, LCSW, is a retired nurse and licensed social worker. Mrs. Dettmer completed her nursing degree at the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing and earned her MSW from Indiana University School of Social Work. She has served in various nursing positions and also as a counselor, and she earned her credentialing in marriage and family therapists. She continues to offer private counseling.