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Volunteer Joins Ranks of Salaried : Philanthropist Hired as South Bay Hospice Fund-Raiser

November 14, 1986|BETTY LUKAS | Lukas is a Times copy editor

Mildred Sokolski is no novice at community service: She is an active member of 11 philanthropic and arts organizations. And she is on the boards of five of them.

She is, however, a novice at her new job--one that pays money.

The Palos Verdes Estates widow recently became director of development for Hospice, which, like similar organizations, serves the needs of terminally ill people. This Hospice is a branch of the Hospital Home Health Care Agency of California and its Torrance office is a 10-minute drive from Sokolski's home.

Accepting a job was an unexpected decision for a 68-year-old woman who earned her last paycheck more than 30 years ago when--early in her marriage and motherhood--she was an interior decorator.

Late Summer

But the timing seemed right: The offer came in late summer, a little more than two years after her husband, Jerry, died.

"I had gotten to the point where I didn't cry an awful lot.

"And I was having a productive life again--not productive and noble but productive and fun, spoiling my (two) granddaughters and taking up golf again.

"But when the offer came, it set me off balance, because I never thought--at this point in my life--of working again.

"It's not that I needed to go to work," she said in the living room of her art-filled, ocean-view home. "I didn't need a job or the money. And I wouldn't have gone to work, if, say, a department store had asked me.

"But I knew this program and it's valuable. I was even about to take the volunteer training program when Jerry got sick.

"So I was very intrigued and flattered that I was considered, that someone had recommended me. There are a lot of women like me, women who have piled up years and years of experience as volunteers, and that experience is an asset in the private sector.

"The only catch was that I didn't want to work full time, so I just told them. I said I wanted flexible hours--I'm a hard worker. I make up the time. I told them I still wanted to be a docent (for the Palos Verdes Community Arts Assn.), and I wanted Fridays off so my friend and I can get away for the weekend if the opportunity arises. (Her friend is a 'significant other' whose wife died a few years ago. 'The four of us has known each other for years and were close friends. So he was there to help me and give me support after Jerry died.')

"Well, anyway, I told them all of this, and they still wanted me, so here I am, working four days a week and still playing golf and being active in my other groups."

(In addition to her docent work with the arts association, Sokolski is on the boards of the Women's Conference of the Jewish Welfare Federation; the Circle support group of the arts association; Peninsula Seniors; the Community Assn. of the Peninsula, which built the Norris Theatre, and the New Place Theatre Company, a new repertory wing of the Norris. She's a member of the Harbor Regional Planning Council of United Way, the American Assn. of University Women's Palos Verdes chapter, Hadassah and Le Club of Palos Verdes.)

Claire Tehan, vice president for Hospice and Sokolski's boss, explained why she hired her: "Mildred's community skills are high and so is her sensitivity level. This job had been open for several months. I was really waiting for the right combination. Mildred has it.

"Hospice takes care of people at a difficult time in their lives so you have to be sensitive, and because our financial need is great, you have to have someone who can raise money. We wanted someone who could do both."

A Difference

(The Hospice is a cooperative of St. John's Hospital and Health Center, Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center, Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital, Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center, South Bay Hospital District, Little Company of Mary Hospital, Torrance Memorial Hospital, Bay Harbor Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center and affiliated with St. Vincent Medical Center.)

Sokolski said she's making some interesting discoveries in her new job. She's finding that being a pro is distinctly different from being a volunteer. "It's strange, because you're still the same person, but you're perceived differently.

"For example, there's this man I know who would never invite me to speak to his group about one of the organizations I belong to. But now that I'm 'working,' he's asked me to speak."

On Hospice, of course.

That's what her job is all about: promotion and fund-raising.

"You'd be surprised to know how many people don't know that Hospice exists and what it does. And those who do know about it don't know we need money."

Sokolski said that Hospice needs nearly $200,000 a year in corporate and private contributions because many of its services are not reimbursed by insurance programs.

"This money we want to raise is to fill a gap. We want the patients to be as comfortable as possible," she said, noting that Hospice served 616 patients in Los Angeles and Orange counties in 1985.

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