By Rafael Sciullo
Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer.”
The work done by those who care for patients – and their caregivers – at end of life is truly remarkable. Many say that it takes a special calling to provide such a compassionate level of care at what is arguably the most delicate time of life. But alongside the physicians, nurses, social workers and other hospice professionals are individuals who go above and beyond in so many ways.
They are our hospice volunteers. From family visits to bereavement support, from pet therapy to office administrative tasks, our volunteers do it all.
Since its inception, volunteers have been an integral part of hospice. And at Family Hospice and Palliative Care, our corps of over 400 dedicated volunteers truly makes a difference, each and every day.
Take for instance Alice, who serves as a “Candlelight Companion” in the Greensburg area. Family Hospice offers the Candlelight Companion program at hospitals, long-term care facilities, and our hospice Inpatient Unit, The Center for Compassionate Care.
Depending on a family’s wishes, a Candlelight Companion may be asked to read, play the patient’s favorite music recordings, pray or just sit quietly.
There’s Marian, a volunteer who provides pet therapy by taking her dog Nellie to visit patients and families. Nellie is a regular visitor to Camp Healing Hearts, our annual free summer day camp for kids coping with the loss of a loved one.
Frank is a volunteer who is active in Veterans’ affairs – and much more. He has done everything from directing traffic for events at our Center for Compassionate Care to taking time to visit patients in their homes.
And we’re blessed to have the help of Harriett, Kathy and Odessa. These ladies come to our administrative offices each week, handling more paperwork than some business executives may know what to do with. Among their responsibilities is assembling the important admission packets that are presented to each patient and caregiver upon coming on to hospice service. In addition, these ladies share their time at our events, such as our annual Golf outing and Memorial Walk, by helping register participants.
These are just a few of the examples of how our volunteers make a difference. Others help us stay in touch with bereaved family members after the death of a loved one, or visit patients by providing massage therapy or expressive art and music. Each one of them, no matter their role, makes a difference.
Saying “thank you” hardly is enough. But one way we do express our gratitude is at our annual volunteer recognition luncheon. Held each spring at The Center for Compassionate Care, our luncheon gives Family Hospice the opportunity to wrap our arms around these wonderful men and women who show such selflessness.
This year alone, Family Hospice recognized over 20 volunteers who celebrated milestone years of service, including six at the 10 year mark, five celebrating 15 years, two with 25 years of service, and two who have spent 30 years volunteering for our organization.
Carol, one of our 30-year honorees in 2010, remembers the first patient she helped:
“I remember that she had emphysema and liked me to read her the 23rd Psalm. Staying with her gave the family free time to do things outside of the home. I really felt I was doing something helpful.”
Carol has gone onto do many more helpful things. Her volunteer service has included everything from picking up patients’ relatives at the airport, to cleaning house, to taking grieving grandchildren to the park.
Carol, along with Alice, Marian, Harriett, Kathy, Odessa and hundreds more are the foundation of hospice. Their spirit, generosity and attitude are exemplary for people of all ages and backgrounds. Our volunteers are the ultimate example of “doing more.”
Consider being a hospice volunteer: To learn more about volunteer opportunities with Family Hospice, please visit www.familyhospice.com and click on “Become a Volunteer.” Or call Nick Petti, Manager of Volunteer Services, at 412-572-8806.
Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. Its website is www.familyhospice.com.