ROCHESTER — Dr. Warren Glaser doesn’t make one dime working at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, 417 South Ave. And that’s just fine with him.
For the past decade or so, Glaser, a physician since 1950, has volunteered at the center, providing health care to clients who seek out the center because it serves those with no health insurance.
"We’re the safety net," Glaser said, noting many of his patients have little discretionary income; work for employers who don’t provide health-insurance benefits; or make too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The center is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester and provides such services as physical examinations, physical therapy, chiropractic care, immunizations, blood-pressure checks, laboratory tests and women’s health care, according to a center brochure. The center also offers dental, counseling, social and educational services.
Clients are asked to make a minimum $5 donation for services. The center’s virtually free health care is made possible by volunteers such as Glaser, who donate their services. Yet, Glaser dismisses any talk about altruism when asked about his volunteer service. He joked that he doesn’t golf or fish, but wants to remain active in his golden years.
"I think I’d go out of my mind if I didn’t have something to do," he said. "I enjoy seeing the patients, and as a secondary effect, if it does good."
However, when pressed about possible religious motivations, Glaser, who is Jewish, said his faith calls on him to be a healer.
"You have to do something in your life that’s a contribution," he said. "You don’t just take — you’ve got to give, too."
One of his patients, Willie Dyson, a Rochester resident who came to Glaser for an employment physical, complimented the doctor on his work.
"This doctor seems to be right on the money," Dyson said.
Overseeing the volunteers is the Rev. Deborah Swift, a Presbyterian minister who is director of operations at St. Joseph’s. She noted that the center employs five full-time workers and six part-time workers. About 150 volunteers also work at St. Joseph’s, she said, with a little more than half providing physical and mental-health services.
"Almost everybody you see here is a volunteer," Rev. Swift said. She added that anybody interested in volunteering first has an interview with her and then may be interviewed by the head of one of the center’s departments. She added that the center uses both professional and nonprofessional volunteers, and that the amount of the time volunteers are at the center can range from one hour a month to a few days a week.
"I’m looking for someone who’s passionate about what we do and the population we work with," she said.
That would describe Dr. Fred SanFilipo, who volunteers both at St. Joseph’s and Mercy Outreach Center,142 Webster Ave. Mercy Outreach Center is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and, like St. Joseph’s, serves the uninsured. SanFilipo, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Spencerport, also oversees the interns from New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls who work at St. Joseph’s.
"I love what I do," SanFilipo said. "There’s nothing more rewarding than taking care of people here and also at (Mercy)."
Sister of St. Joseph Sheila Briody, the center’s director of counseling services, said her volunteers get the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping people who wouldn’t be able to avail themselves of such services otherwise. The center’s mental-health clients often live paycheck to paycheck, and paying for counseling services takes a back seat to paying rent or other bills.
"The folks who come here are so grateful," she said.
Expressing gratitude for the blessings in her own life motivates Joan Bills, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Penfield, to volunteer as a receptionist at the center. She noted that she’s been blessed with three healthy children and a good marriage.
"It’s a really good place," she said of St. Joseph’s. "Everybody who’s here wants to be here."
She added that she strives to treat all the center’s clients with dignity and kindness.
"It’s hard for people to walk through these doors sometimes," she added, noting their difficult situations. "It could be any of us."
Yvonne White, the center’s dental coordinator, is both a paid employee and a volunteer as well. Like the other people manning the center, White said the place has a beneficial effect on its workers.
"It’s very friendly here," she said. "It’s like a home away from home."
She said the center’s clients present an interesting variety of health issues. For example, she recalled one patient, a homeless man, who suffered from frostbite on his toes. "It was pretty bad," she said, noting he had worn wet shoes all winter.
Sister of St. Joseph Christine Wagner, the center’s executive director, noted that her volunteers are essential to the center’s operation.
"Our volunteers are the heart and soul of a community coming together to serve neighbors," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information on St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center, call 585/325-5260.