Two women who have been putting smiles on sick children's faces for nearly 50 years are being celebrated.

Doreen Birchfield and Debz Turner are volunteers at Tauranga Hospital's Children's Ward and are being thanked for their dedication as National Volunteer Week is marked next week.

Birchfield, an 81-year-old grandmother and great-grandmother, said children loved asking her how old she was.

"One little girl asked me once and when I told her she screwed her face up and said: 'Yuck you're nearly 100!' "


Birchfield has walked from her home to the hospital every Wednesday for her two-hour "shift" since 1996. She started volunteering at Auckland's Princess Mary's Hospital in 1989 and spent six years at Starship children's hospital before moving to Tauranga. On Mondays, Birchfield also volunteers to spend time with the "elderly" at Tauranga's Fraser Manor Rest Home.

"I love people and coming to the hospital, the kids keep me going, and the Children's Ward team are like a family. I really enjoy it."

Play specialist Donna Opie said Birchfield emanated warmth, knowledge and kindness.

"It's that grandmotherly approach that the children love," she said.

Debz Turner, who is in her 27th year of service, is the ward's longest-serving volunteer. In the early days, Turner said there was often a queue of children waiting for the toy trolley to arrive in the morning. She has seen lots of changes including the shorter stays the children have in hospital now.

"We used to get to know some of the children really well as they often stayed for weeks," she said.

Turner has seen some children, whose conditions mean they are regular visitors, grow from babies to teenagers.

In the early 2000s, when Turner lived in Gate Pa, she volunteered up to three days a week.

Having moved to Papamoa in 2010, she continues to commute via bus one afternoon a week, helping maintain the playroom and resources and is always eager for a board game.

Her most significant highlight, she said, "was to see smiles on the children's faces".

Play specialist team leader Debbie McDougall said the commitment shown by Turner over the years had been unwavering.

"She is open and accepting and willing to undertake any task that is required to ensure a welcoming and safe playroom."