April 27-May 3, 2003 is National Volunteer Week. It’s a week set aside every year since 1974 to recognize and celebrate the efforts of the thousands of men and women who volunteer their time and energy to help others. Nationwide more than 200,000 volunteers provide over ten million hours of service annually to Americans with life-limiting illness and to their families. I am proud to be counted as one of these individuals and want to join in saluting my fellow volunteers.
A year ago I became a volunteer with a healthcare hospice. I went through training and became a part of a caregiving team consisting of doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains. I decided to become a hospice volunteer after I witnessed the wonderful care my mother, Addie Blackwell, received before she died. Not only has hospice provided a way for me to give back to the community, but also when I volunteer, I am honoring my mother’s memory.
For those who don’t know, hospice is considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care at the end-of-life. Hospice care involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Support is extended to the patient’s loved ones as well. At the center of hospice is the belief that each person has the right to die pain-free and with dignity, and that our families will receive the necessary support to allow us to do so. The focus is on caring, not curing and, in most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home. Hospice care also is provided in nursing homes, hospitals, and other long-term care facilities. Hospice services are available to patients of any age, religion, race, or illness. Under Medicare, most private insurance plans, HMOs, and other managed care organizations, hospice care is available to patients and their families at little or no cost.
Hospice volunteers help make this special way of caring possible. Simply put, we are there to take care of whatever needs to be done. We are there to hold a hand and listen, or to take the patient to their favorite place in the park, or to read to them. We are there to run an errand, walk a dog, or pick up a prescription. We are there to step in when a family member needs a break from caring for their loved one. And we are there for the family and friends after their loved one has passed away. I have worked side by side with members of this community who devote their time—and their hearts—to the work of the hospice team. I have been witness to their work, and they deserve our heartfelt appreciation.
I am so proud to be a volunteer. God wants me to help others, and I feel like I’m doing his work. It is the most rewarding thing that I have ever done.