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Hospice of Valley volunteers help in many ways

Volunteer Betty Schecker supporting Darlene Ferjak with full-time caregiving

Volunteer Betty Schecker (left) loved supporting Darlene Ferjak, who appreciated getting a break from full-time caregiving.

Ahwatukee Foothills News
April 1, 2020
by Lin Sue Cooney

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and Hospice of the Valley is honored to have more than 2,100 dedicated volunteers supporting our mission. 

COVID-19 may be temporarily suspending volunteers’ face-to-face visits with families as all of us practice safe social distancing – but many volunteers are staying in touch by telephone and FaceTime. Hopefully soon, they’ll  be back to visiting and reading, running errands and offering companionship and emotional support.

Our amazing volunteers bring kindness and companionship to people all over the Valley – in homes, assisted living facilities and our inpatient units. Family members tell us they’re a burst of sunshine, providing a shoulder to lean on and a little break from the challenges of daily caregiving.

These selfless volunteers often drop everything to be there for a family in need. Sometimes, they bring along a pet therapy dog like little Callie, who brightens every day with her happy tail and soulful eyes. 

“It just warms my heart,” said Callie’s owner, volunteer Holly Thorson of Gilbert. “Callie just seems to know the patients need comfort and she gives it to them. It just gives me joy.”

Watching Vicki Zanoni of Mesa cover the tiny pooch in kisses, it’s obvious how much these visits mean. 

“When Holly’s not looking, I’m gonna take her one day!” Vicki giggled. “I love this dog. She soothes my feelings. When I pet her, I feel good.”

Volunteer Jeff Riddle became the hands for patient Mark Adinolfi, whose progressive disease advanced to the point that he could no longer prepare gourmet meals for his family. 

He not only enjoyed being in charge — telling Jeff just how thick to slice potatoes or how much Turkish pepper to add to the pork chops — he valued the friendship that grew between the Phoenix residents. 

“Jeff met me in a wheelchair,” Mark said. “He’s not like an old friend who maybe has a little sadness in their eyes when they see how I’ve changed. Jeff knows me exactly as I am now. … He’s a genuine new friend.”

Volunteer Jeff Riddle, left, and Mark Adinolfi have become friends as a result of Riddle’s visits, during which he prepares gourmet meals.

When volunteer Carolyn Westermann shows up to visit her patient, Lois Mongan, both women’s eyes light up. 

The Phoenix residents head to a secluded corner to enjoy a “tea party” together.

Carolyn always brings warm tea in a thermos and a delicious dessert to share. But it’s not about the food — it’s about the conversation and laughter that nourishes their souls.

A few months after her patient Brian Ferjak passed away, volunteer Betty Schecker remembers a lovely encounter with his wife Darlene.

There were hugs, tears and lots of laughter as they reminisced about her husband of 15 years.

“Caring for Brian was 24/7,” said Darlene, who was by his side from the time he was diagnosed with liver disease in April 2018 until his death nearly a year later at age 64. “There was no relief. Betty lifted that burden for a couple of hours and she put me at ease. I knew Brian was in good hands.”

Not every volunteer is suited for patient care, but there are so many other opportunities available.

In addition to pet therapy, there is music therapy, which brings such joy to dementia patients who still have long-term memory and can sing along to their favorite songs. 

Our Shabbat Blessings program brings Sabbath prayers to the bedsides of our patients in our inpatient homes and care facilities. Our tender 11th Hour Companion program provides a specially trained volunteer to vigil at the bedside of a patient during the last hours of life, giving peace of mind to family members.

Volunteers with Saluting Our Veterans and Honoring First Responders pay tribute visits to veteran and law-enforcement patients at end of life. Our Speaker’s Bureau volunteers give educational talks about our no-cost community programs, such as Senior Placement, which helps families locate living arrangements for parents or spouses who can no longer manage on their own. They also educate groups and companies about Healthcare Decision Planning.

We have 350 passionate volunteers working at our White Dove Thrift Shoppes, with locations in Mesa, Glendale, Phoenix and Scottsdale. The stores raise funds for Hospice of the Valley’s charity care programs. 

Volunteers also can stitch a beach towel into a bath poncho to preserve the dignity and modesty of patients during bathing. They can arrange and deliver bouquets of donated flowers to patients, answer phones, assist with special events, greet visitors or manage paperwork in our offices. Spanish speakers are needed for patient companionship and to provide grief support for children. 

Whatever volunteers do, they make a huge difference in the lives of our patients, families and staff. We treasure them as valuable members of our hospice teams and could not care for our community the way we do — without their dedication, commitment and compassion.

To learn how to join our Hospice of the Valley volunteer family, visit hov.org/volunteer or call 602-636-6336.

Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement at Hospice of the Valley.