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Hospital Volunteer Enjoys Top Post

As she completes her first year as president of the Greenwich Hospital Auxiliary, Aileen Houghton recalled how she started as a buyer in the hospital's gift shop.

"I really enjoyed buying for the shop," Houghton said. "There were 16 of us, and we worked in pairs, going to shows in New York City and looking for items to make the shop more interesting."

Born and raised in South Africa, Houghton married a then-investment banker and moved to the United States in 1978. In the 1980s, Houghton started volunteering at the hospital. After a hiatus, she returned six years ago.

"The second time around, my friends were in the gift shop and I came to visit them one day for lunch, and the manager asked me to come back," she said. "At that stage, my life had changed and I had a lot of free time."

Though women began volunteering in 1906, the auxiliary began in 1950 and will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. The auxiliary is currently made up of well over 800 volunteers. To generate funds for the hospital, the auxiliary runs a thrift store and gift shop, and receives donations from its annual appeal.

"The greatest part of this job is having a kind of relation with all the volunteers," she said. "They are so colorful, they are so dedicated and it's an absolute joy to be with them. Last year, volunteers gave 73,000 hours of service to the hospital."

This year, the auxiliary gave a gift of the newly-opened Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Wound Healing as well as scholarships to high school graduates pursing medical careers, among other donations.

"Every day is something new," Houghton said. "My interaction with the volunteers is more social, rather than disciplinary."

Auxiliary presidents can serve for only two years. When her term is over, Houghton said she plans to go back to the shop. "I won't give it up. It gets into your blood, and it's a wonderful way of giving back," she said.

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