Volunteering for Hospice
Helping People in Need
By Jan Engoren
WHAT DOES IT ENTAIL to volunteer your time and energy to a hospice? Does it take a special kind of person to help others at the end stages of life?
According to Sara Sturman, Hospice of Palm Beach County's volunteer services coordinator for southern Palm Beach County, "A good volunteer wants to give back. A person may have had a relative who used hospice care and wants to provide some of the services that their relative received. We look for volunteers who are compassionate, trustworthy and honest. No prior experience is necessary."
The comfort and well-being of patients and families are primary considerations. While volunteers don't provide direct medical care, they offer mutually beneficial companionship and comfort. Or they may do administrative work in the offices. There are other non-patient roles to take on, such as working in the hospice resale shop.
Sandy Tripp, 66, of Parkland, and her daughter Tammy, 48, a blackjack dealer at the Seminole Coconut Creek Casino, both volunteer for Hospice of Broward County. Tammy's interest in alternative healing therapies led her to volunteer. She is a kind and empathetic person who says, "I believe that our soul and spirit don't die, but return to where we came from. I feel good giving back and helping. Patients are so grateful to see us and I'm honored to help."
Her mother, Sandy, is in agreement. Her father was a beneficiary of hospice care, as were other relatives. Sandy, whose goal is to live to age 100, says, "My father was the primary caretaker for my mother, who had lung cancer. He couldn't get out and about and a hospice volunteer would come to relieve him, so he could run errands, relax or take a break from the around-the-clock caretaking."
She continues, "I enjoy it. I'm reciprocating for the help provided to my mother. I don't have money to give, but I can give my time."
Linda Russo, 69, a retired special education teacher who lives in Boca Raton, was taking care of a friend in Boynton Beach who was admitted to a facility for Alzheimer's disease. The patient's daughter arranged for a volunteer from Hospice of Palm Beach County. Russo was so impressed with the volunteer that she decided to sign up. She volunteers a half-day each week at the Hospice of Palm Beach County's Hospice and
Palliative Care Center at Delray Medical Center. She visits with patients, plays cards with them, or just keeps them company.
"I love it," says Russo. "It gives me a good feeling to know I am helping someone who is going through a difficult time, especially if they don't have anyone else to visit them."
Toni Dee, 64, of Boca Raton, a former real estate paralegal for new developments and country clubs, considers her volunteer work a mitzvah or good deed. She was impressed by the volunteers she saw at her father's Alzheimer's facility in 2000 and the volunteers who visit her 96-year-old mother who suffers from dementia. When she recently ran into Sturman at a health fair, Dee signed up on the spot.
People ask her if it's depressing to work with sick and dying patients. "It depends on your personal situation," says Dee. "For me, visiting my patient at her own home is not depressing. But, because of my father's experience, going to a nursing home upsets me. You have to discover what works for you. It is all about how we deal with personal life experiences. Hospice was a positive experience for me when my father was dying. I hope to provide someone else's family with a positive end-of-life experience. I would like to see more people get involved."
For more information on becoming a hospice volunteer, contact Hospice of Broward County at 954-267-3840 or www.hobc.org, or contact Hospice of Palm Beach County at 561-227-5146 or www.hpbc.com.