Volunteers are essential part of the hospice philosophy of care, which recognizes that dying is not just a medical event, but a personal one as well and federal law requires that at least five percent of patient-care hours be provided by volunteers.
Many hospice volunteers are introduced to hospice through the death of a family member and understand firsthand the value of hospice care. Volunteers consistently report that helping the terminally ill through hospice is not about dying, but about living. Death is a part of life and fundamentally, volunteers provide the most elemental of life’s needs, a hand to hold or an ear to listen.
The age of volunteers can range from teens to senior citizens. Some volunteers may have professional skills or specialized expertise, but most are just people who want to help their friends and neighbors and to serve the community.
Wherever you live, a local hospice will have opportunities for volunteers. Volunteer opportunities can vary greatly from one hospice to another but some opportunities available for local hospice volunteers can include:
Support For Patients This can include visiting, reading, taking walks, writing letters, bringing in music, supervising visits with pets, or even massage therapy for volunteers with the necessary skills.
Respite and Support for Family Members Volunteers can assist with shopping or household maintenance, or allow family caregivers the opportunity to take care of necessary errands and get some time away from the house. Family members also appreciate a visit from a compassionate friend who understands what they are going through.
Bereavement Support Programs Hospice volunteers can work closely with the hospice’s professional bereavement staff in duties that range from assisting as a support group facilitator to serving refreshments and helping with mailings to clients and families.
Fundraising and Administrative Work A volunteer with clerical skills can serve a hospice by helping in the office with simple administrative duties. Fundraising responsibilities can range from preparing mailings or thank-you letters to assisting with organizing fundraising events and contacting possible donors.
To ensure that all volunteers are equipped for the challenge of working of end of life care, hospices require that volunteers complete extensive orientation and training sessions, as well as submit to a routine background check. It’s important that volunteers understand the history of hospice and are aware of the specific ways their local hospices work to serve the community. Depending on the area of service, additional training may be available or necessary.
Being a hospice volunteer can be very rewarding. Most of the general public assume that it is difficult to be a hospice volunteer, having to get to know someone only to have them pass away. It is actually rewarding, transformative and life-affirming. What you are doing is useful, and the individual and family you are working with needs you. These patients would be going through what they’re going through whether or not you’re there.
Whether you’ve had a family connection to hospice care and want to give back, or are interested in learning more about how to support and comfort those in their final days, I encourage you to explore this truly rewarding volunteer opportunity. Visit Hospice of Northwest Michigan’s website at www.hospicenwm.org for information about their hospice care volunteer opportunities.