Rhonda Ellis is the first face employees and visitors see when they come across the Locust connector into the hospital every day. As a visitor monitor at the Locust desk, she considers it a privilege to be able to extend a piece of herself in the hopes of making someone else’s day brighter.
It was 1972 when Rhonda first took a job in the housekeeping department at Akron Children’s after graduating from high school. During that time she competed in the local Miss United Way pageant and won.
“It was a lot of standing around and looking pretty, but it was fun,” she said. “I got to be the face of Akron Children’s in the community and encourage people to donate to United Way.”
Feeling the pull to do something different, Rhonda left Children’s in 1975 to work as an admissions supervisor at Akron General Medical Center. After 5 years she took a job at a Cleveland hospital doing financial counseling. Eventually Rhonda transitioned her career into managing the business offices of local nursing homes for over 20 years. Her last stint included working in a home for handicapped children.
“I had a ball working with those kids,” she said. “We made each other laugh.”
When her mother’s health started to decline, Rhonda took a break from her fulltime career to spend time with her mom who moved in with her.
“My mom, Mary Brown, (who had a 32-year career as a recruiter for Akron Children’s) was my best friend and when she passed in December 2013 I knew whatever career I decided to go back to had to be meaningful,” she said. “I didn’t want to waste my time – life is too short for that.”
In April 2015, Rhonda found herself back at the place where it all began.
“When I heard about the visitor monitor position it seemed right up my alley,” she said. “The Locust lobby desk services the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), burn unit and oncology department and those patients generally are sicker and have longer lengths of stay. Their families are on an emotional journey – one day things can be stable and the next things can take a turn. I try to be a sounding board and let them know that someone hears them.”
But it’s not just the patients and their families that Rhonda impacts on a daily basis.
“When I was in training my supervisors told me that Mr. (Bill) Considine’s philosophy (hospital CEO) is to always make our employees feel important since he can’t be there every day to do it himself,” she said. “I really took that to heart and I make sure I greet them as they come in and tell them to get some rest when they leave.”
Outside of work, Rhonda says it’s her girlfriends and husband, J.C., who make her smile. She met J.C. in 2004 when she was a soloist at the annual ‘Gospel Meets Symphony’ fundraiser.
“I performed in that event for 20 years and the best thing I got out of it was my husband,” she joked.
The accomplished singer performed in the hospital’s Employee Foundation Council’s Harvest for Hunger Idol last year and her dream gig is to sing at a Cleveland Cavaliers game someday.
“I want to perform the national anthem acapella at a Cavs home game – that would be a dream come true,” she says.
Although her husband is set to retire in April from Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board, Rhonda has no plans to join him just yet.
“I have so much fun at my job – my work here isn’t done,” she said. “I’m just treating people like I want to be treated. You can see when people have a heavy heart – they wear it on their face and in their body language. When you give them a smile, you give them a little boost.”