When volunteer Chuck Bonnell first walked onto the Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW) campus in Springdale when it opened six years ago, he followed his wife’s advice: “Treat every child like a child.”   

“She said some kids who have issues get treated like, ‘Oh, you poor thing’ or ‘Oh man, I bet you’re really hurt.’ They want to be kids. So you just say, ‘Hey, what’s up,’” Bonnell said of his wife Karla, a long-time special education teacher. “That was just the most wonderful thing I could have been told.”   

Bonnell, 69, is one of about 144 volunteers at ACNW this past year. As one of the longest-serving volunteers, Bonnell reached out to volunteer in 2017 before the hospital opened. He helped set up the gift shop and train other volunteers.   

He recently achieved 3,000 volunteer hours, working Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 12 hours a week. It’s been his mission to make parents feel at ease, to make team members feel appreciated and to put a smile on a child’s face.  

“Honestly, you can sit back and be a fly on the wall and watch him work and just be amazed at how he can connect with literally every type of person that walks through our doors,” said Lane Hume, ACNW volunteer coordinator. “From day one, Chuck has always been quick to help with the volunteer training process. He loves to engage with people. You can see that passion when you talk to him.” 

‘You Can Tell You’re Making a Difference’  

Bonnell’s interest in volunteering for Arkansas Children’s sparked 30-plus years ago. While working as a bank branch manager in Northwest Arkansas, he visited his employee’s daughter, who was receiving treatment for leukemia at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) in Little Rock.   

“I was expecting it to be a ‘hospital-hospital,’ and it was not — it was an absolutely fun atmosphere for what they deal with,” Bonnell said. “The colors were just so bright. The staff working with her were just as happy as they could be under the circumstances. And I told the young lady, ‘Someday I want to volunteer here.’”    

The married father of four, who lives in Johnson, retired from banking in 2016 and began volunteering for ACNW a year later. He inherited a servant’s heart and work ethic from his father, the late Curtis Bonnell, who worked for Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO).   

“In his work, he did everything. He told me one day when I asked, ‘Why do you do that?’ He said, ‘Never get to the point in your life where you’re too good to do anything.’ Over the years in my career, I would plunge a toilet, I wouldn’t call maintenance — I’d do it myself. And that served me well,” Bonnell said. “I follow that same philosophy here — whatever needs to be done, do it. One of my favorite things is helping cut off patients’ medical bracelets. I always say, ‘This is as close as I get to surgery.’ The kids and the parents will smile and laugh. I think my personality is just based on my dad’s; he was a very caring man. And I think I’ve learned that from him.”     

Bonnell has followed that mantra, taking on almost every volunteer task needed at ACNW. Today, he spends most of his time as a gift shop cashier and at the lobby’s front desk, helping visitors navigate the hospital. But it’s not simply scanning items and pointing out directions. Bonnell makes sure to greet each person who crosses his path, whether he’s asking about an employee’s family while passing them in the hall, telling a child they’re a “great shopper” when they pick out a favorite gift shop toy, taking the time to listen to a nervous parent or walking visitors where they need to go. Each greeting or interaction is as unique as the person Bonnell is serving.   

“For me, it’s just making everybody as at ease as possible and helping them get to where they need to be,” he said, adding he takes the same approach in the gift shop. He will always greet a child, and while the conversations might be short, the joy on their faces say it all. 

“It’s how they look at you. To me, that’s where you can tell you’re making a difference,” Bonnell said. “When they come into the gift shop and you say, ‘You’re looking for a toy?’ And it’s just this wonderment of ‘wow.’ When you talk to them, they look at you almost like you’re family.”   

‘Thankful for what you do’ 

Lane explained Bonnell is “famous” with team members, a comforting presence since the hospital opened. In February, he suggested dozens of donated snack-filled compassion bags from Shiloh Chrisitan School in Springdale be given to the surgery team, and he helped deliver them.   

“Nurses were squealing, coming out of the rooms to give Chuck a hug. He’s very warm and friendly, just a bright shining person,” Hume said.   

Certified Surgical Technologist Jennifer Jones, who has worked four years at ACNW, got to know Bonnell when he’d escort her from the parking lot to the hospital for her shifts. The two formed a friendship on the quick trips.  

"He asked what I did, and like most people, he had no idea that my job existed. He was intrigued and would always ask me questions, wanting to know what my job entailed. He always asks about my son and what he is up to,” Jones said. “He constantly tells me how much he appreciates what I do for this hospital and our patients. He makes me feel seen and appreciated. He recommends doing things for the people behind the scenes, especially the surgery team. That makes us all feel special. I have seen him tear up when patients finish treatments, and he celebrates with them. He goes above and beyond for our patients, their families and the employees of ACNW. We are so very lucky to have him.”  

Some health care roles are less visible than others, and Bonnell said it’s his job to ensure each team member knows they matter.    

“My goal now is to learn about and meet as many people as I can. How hard is it to tell them, ‘I’m glad you’re here, and I’m thankful for what you do.’ How hard is that? It’s not. I don’t think they hear it as much as they should because they’re just busy,” he said. “I try my best every day to at least tell someone, ‘We’re really glad you’re here and I appreciate you.’”   

Expressing appreciation also extends to ACNW donors. Bonnell said the community is so giving, and thanking donors is one of his responsibilities.   

“A small gift is just as important as a big gift. Last week, one lady said, ‘Oh, this isn’t very much.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, I’m going to promise you something — every gift a child gets, they don’t care if it came from a big donation or a small one, they are so thankful for it, and we are too. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful it is that you brought this in,’” he said. 

Bonnell cannot pinpoint one aspect of volunteering at ACNW that fulfills him. He’s quick to say it’s “everything.” He dedicates his volunteer time only to ACNW, spending his days off at home painting, woodworking or doing yard work.   

“I can kill any plant you have. But I try so hard; it’s fun for me. Mowing my yard has always been my stress reliever,” Bonnell said. “For a while, I made benches. I had no idea how I got into that, but I would make benches and give them away to people. Three days a week at ACNW gives me two days to do stuff, and that’s really all I need.”   

Bonnell said he’s excited about the changes coming to ACNW as Arkansas Children’s health system embarks on its largest expansion in its 113-year history. And for as long as he’s able, Bonnell will be on campus with a smiling face, ready to help.  

“I’m so anxious to see the new construction and to be able to help get people where they need to be. To be somebody they can look to and go, ‘Hey, can you help me with this?’ ‘Yes, I can,’” he said. 

Volunteering at Arkansas Children's

Volunteers are vital to Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) in Little Rock and Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW) in Springdale. 

“Volunteers allow us to support clinical staff and make sure the patient experience is really something our patients and families walk away with feeling they were seen and heard as individuals and people,” said Lane Hume, ACNW volunteer coordinator, who also previously worked in volunteer engagement at ACH. “Having volunteers like Chuck Bonnell allows us to create those relationships and build those root systems with our clinical staff.”   

Several types of volunteers, from college students to retirees, give back in various ways on both campuses. Hume said there are many volunteer opportunities, including in the gift shops and emergency departments, helping visitors navigate the hospital and art carts to share craft supplies with patients. At ACNW, volunteers also serve in occupational therapy, physical therapy and pastoral care. There are also non-patient-facing volunteer opportunities, including assistance with donations, special events and office work.   

Volunteers can apply via an online application. Some immunization documentation is required, depending on the volunteer role.  

Arkansas Children’s requires a commitment of six months or a 72 hour-minimum when someone applies as a traditional volunteer. Event-based only volunteers do not have a set hourly commitment.   

Volunteers typically serve three hours a week and up to 12 hours a week at ACNW, Hume said. They average about 20 to 30 volunteers daily.  

“We’re flexible with schedules. We have volunteers who have been here since the beginning. You can come in and adapt a schedule to your individual needs,” Hume said, adding there are morning, afternoon and evening shifts.   

For college students specifically, Hume said volunteering gives them a glimpse of a pediatric hospital, helping them decide on a career path in health care.   

The minimum age for volunteers is 14, with 14- to 18-year-olds considered “junior volunteers.” Hume said adult volunteers must be 18 and over. She has numerous volunteers in their 80s. 

“I always love to tell people there’s nothing wrong with looking for something you will get out of volunteering, too. It doesn’t always just have to be this selfless service, which is what I think a lot of people think of when they hear volunteering. We hope that they gain something too,” Hume said.   

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteers are an important part of our team and help support our mission of making children better today and healthier tomorrow. 

Learn about volunteer opportunities at ACH and ACNW