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Volunteers are an essential part of the hospice care team. The difference they make for our patients and their families is immeasurable. Whether it’s through direct care or administrative work behind the scenes, there are countless ways a hospice volunteer can help.
We are beyond grateful for the incredible people who volunteer their time and talents to make a positive difference in our patients’ lives. In honor of National Volunteer Month, we’d like to recognize just a few of them. We asked our volunteers to share what made them decide to be a hospice volunteer and what they find most rewarding about their experience.
“On September 10, 2018, Mr. Kelly Gafkjen, Chaplain, Hospice of the Midwest, was a guest speaker at our Urbandale-Johnston Veterans of Foreign Wars monthly meeting. Kelly was on a mission seeking veterans to talk to veterans in local hospice care in their homes or hospice facilities. Many veterans in hospice would like to share their life and military experiences, but feel only a fellow veteran can associate with their feelings. At the conclusion of his presentation, Kelly asked that we consider volunteering, receive some minimal training, and agree to talk to veterans who are seeking fellow veterans to talk to. After our meeting concluded, a number of us discussed the information presented by Kelly, and three of us thought this was right in line with our VFW mission of “Veterans helping Veterans”. Contact was made with Kelley and the three of us started our training at the Fall Training Session September 27, 2018 , conducted by Kelley and Taylor Schneider. By the end of October we had finished our training and were waiting for our first assigned veteran.
Under the guidance of Taylor I was introduced to my first veteran during a pinning ceremony on November, 30, 2018. Since then I have had the privilege of meeting and sharing both civilian and military experiences with 9 veterans of WW II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War eras. Every veteran, whether Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine, were all comrades and had their own unique and fascinating stories to tell. Some sad, some humorous, but all seemed willing to share with enthusiasm. I so much enjoyed visiting with these men, and I only hope they felt the same comradery that I felt while in their presence. I will miss these veterans but look forward to meeting my next comrade.”
“Kendall and I (Ashley) love volunteering for Premier Hospice! We started in 2019 and volunteer weekly. Kendall states that he enjoys working in an office setting and learning new skills. I have been working with Kendall through the Medicaid Waiver program for almost 5 years. Seeing Kendall get to experience a work-type setting and learn new skills has been very rewarding. Nikki is a lot of fun to work with and always makes us feel appreciated!”
“We started volunteering for a local hospice during the pandemic (2020). We stumbled upon the opportunity from an email our mom received asking for donations of homemade casseroles and cards for hospice patients and their families. At first, it started by making occasional cards and casseroles, and then it turned into a routine every other week activity. This evolved into helping other hospices including including Grane Hospice. We have made homemade cards and even have given a virtual concert for the patients at Grane Hospice. We feel grateful to be able to give back to others in need even during a worldwide pandemic. It shows no matter what the circumstances, we can help others in our community. All this volunteer work has inspired us to create our own non-profit group called Rays of Sunshine, benefiting local hospices. We hope to expand and help even more local hospices in the future.”
“Coming from a family where both parents were in the medical field, I have had an interest in medicine ever since I can remember. In the pursuit of getting involved with medical volunteering opportunities, I wanted to commit to something that would provide meaningful experiences in vulnerable people’s lives, as well as my own. Although my patients’ physical bodies are failing them, they still have great wisdom to impart when given the chance to share and be heard. Many times, I leave the local assisted living facility with an enlightened perspective that I believe will serve me well in the career I am aspiring to have. From hearing first-person stories of World War II experiences to celebrating 96 years of living, there is always a window for valuable learning opportunities when I have the chance to spend time with these folks whom I now consider my friends.”
“I Prayed about being a Hospice Volunteer and this is how the Lord is using My ability as a Hairdresser, to bring Comfort and Joy to the Patients. The most rewarding aspect is seeing the Happiness in the Faces of the Patients and their Families. Working with Them is a Blessing to Me.”
“Being a hospice volunteer is about having a passion and love for helping others. No, I don’t physically help them but the most rewarding part about volunteering with my dog, Flynn, is seeing the joy it brings to residents. Residents look forward to our visits and remember us from week to week, allowing special connections to be made. I’m thankful for the opportunity Flynn and I have to give our time and make people smile.”
Kennedi and Ernest – graduate level social work students with Alabama A&M University and the University of Alabama – are student volunteers with Hospice of North Alabama in Huntsville. They sit with patients to provide caregiver respite. Hospice volunteer work allows students to garner a strong understanding of how social workers broker services within a healthcare agency as well as how to coordinate with various other healthcare and social service agencies.
Ernest states “I have learned that the process of dying and bereavement is as diverse as the families we serve. The first step of serving this population is engaging the patient and/or caregivers on what they want this time in their lives to be like—no two answers are the same.”
Along with the home environment, they also work with residential care communities to provide comfort and support. This gives them experience working with diverse community types and medical care needs.
Kennedi states “The things I’ve learned while interning at Hospice of North Alabama have prepared me to be a more caring and competent social worker. The compassion and kindness that HNA shows to the patients has been extended to me from the very beginning, and I’m so grateful. This has been the greatest experience of service I have committed myself to.” Ernest agrees, adding: “Knowing that you have provided support to a patient and/or their family in this transition period is rewarding. Establishing the trust that fosters comfort and emotional resiliency is an experience that will give volunteers a unique understanding of how health care best serves patients in all life stages.”
“My internship and volunteering experience with Premier Hospice was meaningful and fulfilled my longstanding desire of working with end-of-life services to clients and their families.
I enjoyed working with a well-resourced team that included a chaplain, bereavement coordinator, social workers, liaisons, nurses, a doctor, and a volunteer coordinator. Each of them brought to bear their own particular skillset, and we all collaborated to make our clients’ end of life as comfortable and dignified as possible.
Besides teamwork, I enjoyed, I enjoyed visiting with my client once a week. My primary role was to support and strengthen the care providers so that they might function better.
I also enjoyed supporting other team members by making caring calls to clients or their families. It was amazing how much comfort and reassurance I could bring to them through the calling service. My participation in the online bereavement group was my gain in the understanding and knowledge of the process in group work, particularly for grieving families.
Through my time with Premier Hospice, I have grown to better appreciate the important role of leadership in the hospice setting. The internship was profitable to my professional growth and development.”
“I volunteer with hospice to facilitate new transitions. In January 2020, I completed the training to become an End-of-Life Doula in New York City. In my move to Indianapolis, it was important for me to find a strong hospice program where I could be actively involved in the moments of life and death with others.
I volunteer because dying is an important cycle in every community. It is never easy to participate in the dying process, it pulls at every piece of your being. But there is nothing more rewarding than helping a patient or caregiver smile again while recalling a significant life moment. There is nothing more rewarding when the world feels burdensome, to help others find peace even for a single second.”
Thank you to these incredible individuals – and to all the volunteers on our team – for all you do for our patients and their families. You are amazing!