Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 12 – 19, 2015
As Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” It is in that spirit that we celebrate the service of volunteers during the month of April.
In Canada, National Volunteer Week was first conceived in 1943 as a way to celebrate the contribution made by women on the home front to the war effort. After World War II ended, National Volunteer Week declined in popularity until the 1960s when it revived and eventually began gaining popularity in the United States as well. In 1974 President Nixon established National Volunteer Week with an executive order as a way to recognize and celebrate the efforts of volunteers. Since then the original emphasis on celebration has widened and the week has become a nationwide effort to urge people to get out and volunteer in their communities.
While volunteering has been a common ethic for a long time now, researchers have studied the health benefits, in addition to the social benefits, for the volunteering individual. This research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment that an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities. (Herzog et al., 1998) According to another study of older adults, formal volunteering moderated the loss of a sense of purpose among older adults who had experienced the loss of major role identities, such as wage-earner, spouse and parent. (Greenfield and Marks, 2004)
Hospice volunteers are a very special niche of volunteers. We speak of “going into hospice” as if it is a place. While it can be, it is actually a philosophy of care that shifts the focus from seeking treatment to accepting life’s finality with dignity. Hospice care is delivered in a team approach with the volunteer being part of that team. Amid the health professionals providing hospice care are the volunteer companions; regular folks who just sit and chat, forming a relationship that inevitably will end but the journey can be very rich. Hospice volunteers are an integral part of the hospice team as they provide an extra level of comfort by just being present for a patient and family for a day, an hour, a few minutes.
Volunteers come to Hospice of the North Coast with a variety of gifts, talents, skills, ages and life experiences. Just as each patient and family is unique, so are their needs. In turn, the way in which a volunteer gives service is unique to the needs of each patient and caregiver. Our volunteers receive an in-depth comprehensive training covering topics such as the history & philosophy of hospice, family dynamics, the signs and symptoms of dying, grief & loss, boundaries and the role of the volunteer.
In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, HNC would like to extend our utmost appreciation to all of our wonderful volunteers for their unending compassion and unwavering dedication to not only this hospice but to our amazing patients and families!!
“How people die remains in the memory of those who live on”
Dame Cicely Saunders (1918 – 2005) founder of the modern hospice movement