Hospice Volunteer: A New Way to Getting Involved
Benjamin Franklin knew a thing or two about the certainty of life, but he never visited LifePath Hospice’s Melech Hospice House in Temple Terrace, Florida. If he had, this Founding Father of our nation would have added a third sure thing to his list: Every Wednesday, Ben Franklin would be welcomed and greeted by hospice volunteer Beth Glenn and her loyal sidekick Fuzzy Rogers.
Q and A with a Hospice Volunteer
We sat down with Beth and asked her about how she and Fuzzy came to LifePath Hospice and how it changed their lives.
Question: What made you decide to volunteer?
Answer: After I retired from teaching elementary school for 30 years—third and fifth grade math and science in Hillsborough County, I was looking for something to do with my time. I had specific criteria. I wanted to do something new, and the activity needed to involve dogs. I’ve always loved dogs: I grew up with Dalmatians. In addition, wherever I volunteered, the mission needed to be attainable for the organization. The first organization I volunteered with was Southeastern Guide Dogs headquartered in Bradenton.
After volunteering there for some time, I became involved with the organization’s ambassador program. I started going out into the community attending events with my first ambassador dog, Dipaolo, which included visits to assisted living facilities in Plant City. These activities led me to hospice and specifically to LifePath Hospice and the Melech Hospice House. Once again, my criteria were met with regard to volunteering with my dog and the mission of the organization being attainable. Dipaolo was the first dog that I volunteered with for LifePath Hospice.
Question: How long have you volunteered?
Answer: It has been a couple of years since I became a hospice volunteer. I have always been at the Melech Hospice House. A couple of months ago, Dipaolo retired as a Southeastern Guide Dog ambassador and Fuzzy Rogers, my black lab, filled his paws. Any visitor coming into the house on a Wednesday from about 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. knows Fuzzy Rogers. He is by my side at the front hospice volunteer desk as people sign in.
Question: Tell us more about Fuzzy Rogers. How did he become involved in pet therapy?
Answer: Fuzzy Rogers actually has a couple of names—Fuzzy, Fuzz Ball, Fuzzy RaRa, Mr. Rogers and The Fuzz. I did not name him. It is the practice of Southeastern Guide Dogs to have fundraisers to name its puppies. Also, I did not train him as a puppy. Fuzzy was trained by a Texan who I will get to meet face to face later this month.
Fuzzy Rogers is a very friendly dog, which does not make him a good guide dog. He is also reserved, which makes him better suited for pet therapy. He is excellent at greeting visitors and enjoys guiding family members and friends to where they need to go in the building. There are many times when Fuzzy and I are requested to visit a specific patient’s room. Our presence is truly to benefit the family more so than the patient in most instances. Petting a dog is therapeutic and helps to relieve stress.
Question: What do you enjoy about volunteering?
Answer: Fuzzy and I get to interact with all different people who walk through the front doors of Melech Hospice House. We talk and learn from one another, and petting Fuzzy gives them the prompt to comfortably share their feelings. As hospice volunteers, Fuzzy and I are given the opportunity to change lives at a very stressful time for them.
Question: Can you share any stories about the impact that Fuzzy Rogers has had on patients and families?
Answer: A young man with autism had been visiting with his grandmother, and she shortly thereafter passed away. He was pacing back and forth trying to return to the room and was visibly distraught. The family was doing their best to settle him down, and it just wasn’t working. The young man’s mother told me that he is nonverbal. He avoids eye contact and touch at all costs.
Fuzzy sensed that this young man was upset, so he sat in front of him waiting patiently. The young man stopped pacing, looked at Fuzzy and kneeled down snuggling and kissing Fuzzy on the forehead. They looked into each other’s eyes as if they were connecting on a higher level. When they left, the young man smiled and waved goodbye. His family told me this was extremely out of character for him. In fact, they have a dog at home that the young man totally ignores.
Fuzzy helped the young man calm down, and the family was able to go home and grieve their loss together. The mother thanked us for the interaction and said she will always remember that moment. She was very appreciative at the difference we made with the loss of her mother.
Question: What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a hospice volunteer?
Answer: I had a hospice experience in my own family in the late 1980s and already knew how comforting the care can be for patients and loved ones. But being a hospice volunteer, I realized something very important: It is not depressing to volunteer for hospice. It is actually uplifting and positive. Hospice is not sad, and it is okay to laugh and smile. It definitely helps when you have a sidekick like Fuzzy.
At Chapters Health System, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Phoebe Ochman
Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.
Top 5 Characteristics of a Great Hospice Volunteer
At Chapters Health, we believe there is no volunteer opportunity more rewarding than helping at one of our hospices. There are many ways to volunteer with Chapters Health and our affiliates—Good Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice: Patient and family support, grief support and other roles such as making phone calls to patients, copying, filing and helping with mailings.
Anyone can volunteer, but it takes a special person to be a hospice volunteer. These top five characteristics define what it takes to be a great hospice volunteer.
With terminal diagnoses, no two patients will follow the same end-of-life process. A great volunteer accepts this fact and possesses the patience to assist patients and families through the journey. If volunteering for any of the children’s grief camps, the person should be patient as well easy-going when working with kids.
Make no mistake about it: Volunteering with hospice can be filled with challenges. No matter how volunteers spend their time, they help to make sure patients’ remaining days, as well as the lives of their families, are filled with the warm touch and special attention they deserve.
A hospice volunteer is often presented with the opportunity to display compassion and understanding. A great hospice volunteer welcomes these opportunities and is empathetic. Caring about others is one of the most defining characteristics an individual can possess if interested in volunteering for hospice.
As a seasoned hospice volunteer will tell anyone contemplating the opportunity, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed: Things will not always go the way you think they should. Things change quickly in hospice for a wide variety of reasons. Therefore, it is important that if you want to be a hospice volunteer, you are open to change.
In the Journal of Aging and Identity, while describing communication in hospice volunteer-patient relationships, Elissa Foster emphasized a focus on the patient as living rather than dying. Hospice volunteers learn that contrary to assumed expectations, very little of their experience with patients is centered on death. Faced with end-of-life care, an ability to shift focus to living rather than dying suggests an advanced level of consciousness. A great hospice volunteer recognizes the importance of open, honest communication and possessed the ability to talk with others.
While they may have a lot to offer, a great hospice volunteer recognizes that he or she also has much to learn. From patient and family support to grief support and a multitude of other opportunities, valuable insight can be gained from other hospice volunteers.
If you have these characteristics, please consider becoming a volunteer for Chapters Health or any of our affiliates—Good Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice. It’s as easy as filling out an application, just click here. Or visit our opportunities page for more information. We’d love to have you, and as you learned from Beth and Fuzzy, volunteering can be quite rewarding!