Many employees at Akron Children’s routinely go the extra mile for their jobs. But employees who give up Thanksgiving with their own families so they can cook for their co-workers are a rarity.
Meet Karen Ellis, secretary on the school age unit. Some would say the things she does go the extra 100 miles.
For the past 11 years, regardless of whether she’s scheduled to work, Karen has coordinated a Thanksgiving feast for the medical residents, attending physicians and nurses who have to work the holiday.
“For first-year residents this may be the first time they have ever been away from their families for the holidays,” she said. “A lot of our residents aren’t from around here. It’s sad thinking about being alone.”
So, Karen had the idea to host a Thanksgiving dinner on the school-age unit and make it a home away from home. And, she doesn’t skimp on the details.
“Everything has to match,” said co-worker Kim Grinstead, clinical coordinator. “She hauls in china, stemware, flatware and linen tablecloths from home. She goes all out to make it spectacular.”
Karen looks at the call sheet of who’s scheduled to work and assigns people items to bring. She’s very particular about her menu and matches items to the person who can best prepare it.
“I know the residents are too busy to cook so they usually get assigned the sparkling grape juice,” she said.
At 6 a.m. she brings in her roaster and starts roasting the turkey and setting up the buffet.
“Some of the orthopedic and surgical residents don’t know each other so this is also a time to meet people and make new friends,” Karen said. “One year a resident from Ghana was away from her children and she started crying because she was just so grateful. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”
Even when Karen’s own kids started questioning why she continued doing the dinner when she didn’t have to, she stood firm.
“This is my mission, I have to do this,” she said.
Karen doesn’t just stop with Thanksgiving feasts either.
According to Kim she puts together celebrations almost every month.
“We have a Love Feast for Valentine’s Day, a shamrock-themed celebration for St. Patrick’s Day,” she said. “She goes all out for Nurses Week every year. One year she did a Hollywood theme complete with a red carpet. Another time it was beach party with palm trees, tiki bar and drinks with umbrellas.”
Karen also throws parties for milestone birthdays, baby showers and retirements.
“She makes everyone feel good about working here,” said Kim. “Whatever she does – she does big – it’s just in her nature.”