By Lin Sue Cooney
The silver lining in these challenging times is a collective recognition of the amazing work our healthcare workers do day in and day out. They deserve all our accolades and prayers, for this crisis is far from over.
Yet right on their heels is another group that has perhaps become society’s newest brand of hero: Volunteers. Those selfless souls who are stepping up to help people sheltering in their homes often without a support system.
At Hospice of the Valley, we treasure our volunteers every day of the year, not just during National Volunteer Week (April 18-24). Some 2,000 strong, they offer companionship, kindness and compassion. Their only compensation is the reward of knowing they have brightened someone’s day and eased a heavy heart.
“I feel my visits are a shining light that relieves the amplified isolation my patient is feeling due to COVID-19 and her terminal condition,” says Peoria volunteer Diane Walton, who has given back to our nonprofit organization for 16 years. “Whether we’re playing cards, purging photos or organizing drawers, my sole motivation is to improve the quality of her day. Whatever I can do, I am there.”
Sometimes a volunteer comes with a four-legged friend. During the pandemic, virtual pet visits have given patients like Barbara Peterson something exciting to look forward to. With our nurse’s help, the 87-year-old was able to FaceTime with her beloved pet therapy team — volunteer Tracy Howell and Roger the cat — for 45 minutes!
Sometimes a volunteer comes bearing blooms. Once a week, Jennifer Bortz, a Cave Creek neuro psychologist with “a long history in the flower business,” teams up with a fellow Dove Petals volunteer to arrange flowers donated by supermarkets. The beautiful arrangements are then gifted to patients. “It feels good to know we bring them something unique to enjoy,” she shares.
And sometimes a volunteer brings a bag of groceries. “I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for patients during these times, especially those with no family support. I feel blessed to be able to shop for them,” Phoenix volunteer John Burgess says.
They also write beautiful sympathy cards like the one volunteer Lisa Holliday remembers getting when her father died. It was signed by everyone who cared for him five years ago. The personalized message was comforting. “It was unexpected — and it was a blessing,” she recalls.
Some make bereavement calls to comfort homebound survivors. Volunteer Belinda Brown, a retired paralegal, supports many widows who were married for decades. “It’s a double whammy because they lost their best friend, and with pandemic, they can’t have visitors and are more isolated than ever. Sometimes we talk for an hour,” Belinda says. “They’ve become just as important to me as I think I have become to them. It’s a really rewarding way of giving back.”
“I give my patient’s husband the peace of mind to go to the grocery store, run errands or just take care of things around the house knowing his wife is being taken care of,” volunteer Sue Hanke says. “This has been a crazy time for everyone and it’s nice when you can make a difference.”
Volunteers are the soul of our five White Dove Thrift Shoppes, which help support our charity care programs so no one who needs care is turned away. Teen volunteers have tapped into their imaginations to find new ways of serving. Srikar Potharaju is one of many who created a “video library” showing patients how to play chess or garden. “I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference and keep everyone safe!” the Chandler teen says.
Cindy Hacker of Wittman epitomizes the heart of our volunteers when she says her goal is to nudge the needle in the direction of compassion. “I always experience an expanded sense of contribution, connection and gratitude. In a world where I feel mostly powerless to help alleviate suffering, that is no small thing.”
If you are interested in sharing your time, talent and heart with Hospice of the Valley patients and families, visit hov.org/volunteer or call (602) 636-6336.
Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement at Hospice of the Valley.