Volunteering In Hospice

Hospice volunteers provide much-needed support and comfort to dying people and their families.

By Jack D. Gordon

Wherever you live, a local hospice will have opportunities for volunteers. Participants may range in age from teens to senior citizens. Volunteer opportunities can vary greatly from one hospice to another. Some volunteers may have professional skills or specialized expertise, but most are just people who want to help their friends and neighbors and serve the community.

The 96,000 hospice volunteers at work in hospices throughout the U.S. are an essential part of the hospice philosophy of care, which recognizes that dying is not just a medical event, but a personal one as well. In fact, federal law requires that at least five percent of patient-care hours be provided by volunteers.

Many of these volunteers were 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.

You should contact your local hospice for more details on their specific needs, but some of the wide range of 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.

Child Care Assistance

This can include help with baby-sitting, picking up children from school or providing necessary transportation to club meetings or sporting events and practices. Volunteers have also made invaluable contributions with family pet care.

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 organizing fundraising events and contacting possible donors.

To ensure that all volunteers are equipped for the challenge of working with the dying, 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.

To volunteer, or for more information, look in your local Yellow Pages for a hospice near you. Or contact the Hospice Foundation of America at 1-800-854-3402 or on the Web at www.hospicefoundation.org.

Jack D. Gordon is the chairman and CEO of the Hospice Foundation of America. From 1972–1992, he served in the Florida State Senate.

Educational Broadcasting Corporation/Public Affairs Television, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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