Service with a smile

First aides Peninsula women win volunteering awards

Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2005


  Bonnie Nichols has contributed her skills with song writing and performing to a number of different organizations. She is one of two local recipients of the First Lady's Volunteer Awards. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Bonnie Nichols has contributed her skills with song writing and performing to a number of different organizations. She is one of two local recipients of the First Lady's Volunteer Awards.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Bonnie Nichols doesn't have to look for the good things life has to offer — they seem to find her.

Some might think of Nichols as a mystical healer and selfless advocate for volunteerism. Some say she's a gifted songwriter. She herself said she can't be one without being all.

Nichols was recognized this week by the first lady of Alaska, Nancy Murkowski, for giving her gifts freely to the community. The ever-smiling and ever-giving musician is the public relations and marketing director at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna.

According to Nichols' co-worker, Kris Eriksen, volunteering and giving are things that come naturally. So naturally, she said, it's almost weird.

"She's constantly doing things like singing for friends, other employees and people who don't even know her. She does all that in her spare time," Eriksen said. "She doesn't want to be compensated, she just likes to put good energy out there — and it comes back to her."

Eriksen said many people are astonished by Nichols' ability, that someone in their midst can do what she can with music and healing. It's no surprise that such a person would find themselves working in health care.

"Within the hospital, she's involved in everything and it's not surprising people think of her as a healer, because she is. She's generous with her gifts and allows people the opportunity for alternative health care. Her philosophy is that every part of the environment contributes to how well you heal — body, mind and spirit," she said.

Nichols heals with her music, too.

Her songs about organ donation and child immunization aren't cheesy jingles. They carry a heavy message and are being pitched to big names in the country music industry through her publisher in Nashville. But Nichols isn't flashy or conceited. Those who know her will tell you she and her music are the essence of humility and honesty.

Her song, "New Beginnings in the End," promotes giving life and sharing it as a gift through organ and tissue donation.

"Alaska is a popular place for organ donation because of all the traumatic injuries the state sees. People have got to believe in this here, and it's a message that needs to get out," she said. "People need to know that you can't take your body with you. Wherever you go after this life, neither your body nor its parts will go with you, so you might as well leave them here for another person to enjoy."

Another one of her songs, "Grace," is about a friend who had a relapse with lymphoma. She wrote it for the Relay for Life cancer research fund-raiser.

"My songs come from that spiritual center that everyone has. Sometimes the message is more important than the license or the money. I feel like you get back what you give," she said.

Hearing her sing it invokes a sense of connectivity to humanity and the journeys people take — something she says people only have an illusion of when they think they know where those journeys will take them. By her own proud admission, she is subject to those twists and turns that make life what it is.

"I don't have a preconceived idea of how things should be. People sense my openness and willingness to explore new things," she said.

Wherever the road takes Nichols, you can bet she will be fully in tune with it — and fully engaged.

"It always makes me laugh when the next wonderful thing happens. Attitude is the only thing that nobody can take from you. It's a choice anyone can make," she said. "People will ask me, 'What is it you don't do?' There are 1001 ways to serve, and there are other people who can do those things."

When it comes to finding those songs, Nichols said things just simply come to her, as if she is a channel for therapeutic and positive vibrations.

"Things come to me as songs and I use them to heal and support other people. You just have to be open to what comes, to be a vessel of whatever message is coming. I have a syncricity in my life. You just put yourself in the place of greatest possibility and go with it. It's kind of wild," she said and laughed. "It's just a download, and sometimes I seek it out. That's the fun part. It's such a joke that we have any control over our lives."

Nichols was honored at the First Lady's Volunteer Awards luncheon Wednesday.

"I nominated Bonnie because she does an amazing amount of things for people. Her job at the hospital suits her to a tee. Who more would you want representing a health organization than someone who believes in holistic healing? Who better than someone who is your biggest cheerleader?" Eriksen said.

Nichols said the awards luncheon was refreshing.

"I sat next to Nancy and her daughter, Carol Sturgulewski, and Carol thought it is was an unusual way to volunteer by using music. It just feels natural to use the talents I have to give back. Everyone should find their talents and volunteer because it richens the community."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Nancy Murkowski said, "It's the little things people do in their communities that make the biggest difference."

Murkowski honored 11 volunteers from Alaska on Wednesday.

"These people are just a handful of those all over the state who are volunteering and doing great things for their community. I read each one of these applications and found there are so many people who give their time. In the old days we all had to take care of our neighbors and looked after them. It's people helping people. That's what Alaska is all about," she said.

The awards were announced in conjunction with the Spring Regional Volunteerism Summit sponsored by the Alaska State Community Service Commission.

Murkowski said people acquire the neighborly mode of thinking by living in Alaska.

"These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are people who make life a lot more easy in the community," Murkowski said.

However, from what those who know Nichols have said, she is hardly ordinary.

"I was surprised about this because there were 200 applicants, people who do way more than me. When I got there, people said, 'You have no idea how much you do.' It was a very nice experience to be there on the state level," she said. "I just do what is personal to me. I pull from a musical place. My gift of music may seem an odd one, but it's what I can give."

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