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86-year-old man sets Rady Children’s volunteer record

SAN DIEGO -- Don Bellows has been working at Rady Children’s Hospital for nearly the past quarter-century. And he hasn’t been paid a dime.

The 86-year-old widower volunteers his time at the hospital, spending four days a week helping out, including at the Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children. And all that time has added up to more than 11,000 volunteer hours -- more than any other volunteer in the hospital’s history.

It’s a job with no pay and no benefits unless you consider the benefits of how he’s paid.

“If they get a smile on the face, that’s payment,” he says.

He says the children all have significant long-term disabilities, so communication with most of them is difficult. And so is seeing them in that condition.

“You wonder why the Lord doesn’t just zap them and make them well,” he said.

But he says when he comes to work that he puts his hand on each child’s head and ask that each of them be blessed.

The former airman and engineer started volunteering at the hospital in 1993 and says that as long as his health is good, he has no plans to stop. He hopes to be able to continue to volunteer until he’s at least 90.

There are not a lot of facilities like The Bernardy Center. With the closest one in Oregon, a lot of the kids, who live at the hospital full-time, don’t always get to see their families. And that’s where “Grandpa Don” comes in. He says he’s like family to them, just as they are to him.

“I love the kids,” he says, “and I think they’re just amazing.”

It’s a labor of love, and it’s hard to put a price on that.