As COVID-19 numbers increased before Thanksgiving, Hannah Gonzales, a patient service representative at Bend South Immediate Care, began to notice a change in her colleagues and their workplace.

“I could see the tsunami coming and the pressure mounting. COVID was demanding more of our days and there wasn’t as much time to talk and to interact on a personal level,” Gonzales said, “So I sat there thinking, ‘What can I do to counter this?’”

Hannah Gonzales

Her goals were simple: To make people smile. To make them laugh. To give them a break from the day-to-day stress of doing health care work in late 2020.

The idea Gonzales came up with was not as simple, so she recruited her kids and husband to help her. Together, they printed out 60 drawings of elves, cut them all out, colored them in festive reds and greens and attached printed-out heads of all the caregivers who work at Bend South.

All told, the job took several hours nightly for about two weeks. Then, one night when the clinic was empty, Gonzales went to her office and stuck them all over the walls for her colleagues to discover in the morning.

When they did, the positive effect on the team was immediate, said Dr. Tom Allumbaugh, who practices at Bend South.

“To see the joy and community as people walked in that first morning after all the elves were placed – all due to the selflessness of Hannah and her family – is a true reflection of the season,” he said.

Erika Harvey, operations manager for the clinic, echoed those thoughts:

“I am truly amazed by the time it took and the amount of effort Hannah put into such a gracious act of kindness,” she said. “When we opened clinic on Friday morning there was such a sense of happiness and joy from the entire team.”

Gonzales has worked for St. Charles for four years, but she’s been practicing acts of kindness for much longer, she said. When she worked at Providence Health in Portland, she was on the “Sunshine Committee,” which was tasked with making the workplace fun and engaging. Before that, she grew up as the child of a pastor whose work with the less fortunate instilled in Hannah a heart for all people, she said.

“One of the things I hear at St. Charles is ‘our strength is in our people,’ and I agree with that 100%. Your strength is in your people, and that’s what drives me – people’s overall wellbeing and trying to make sure they feel valued,” Gonzales said. “The elves were just a little thing, but many times it’s the little things that make people feel valued, and feeling valued is such a huge part of feeling good and being happy about where you are and what you’re doing.”

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