Not everyone might warm up to the prospect of volunteering at a home for the terminally ill.
Yet according to Kim Snyder, executive director of Vincent House in Wayland, those who commit to volunteerism end up witnessing — and helping create — many rewarding moments.
"The biggest thing is getting people to come into the house and seeing what we’re about," she said.
Vincent House, along with Teresa House in Geneseo, is urging more community members to become involved. Both comfort-care facilities have recently posted pleas for additions to their volunteer lists in area parish bulletins.
Adults of all ages are welcomed, as well as mature high-schoolers. Although volunteer opportunities can include such duties as landscaping and fundraising, the primary need is for caregiving — physical and emotional care of the residents and their families; doing leisure activities with residents such as reading or watching television; preparing meals; giving medications; and taking phone calls.
Snyder and Linda Simmons, executive director of Teresa House, emphasized that volunteers are the lifeblood of their operations, with the number of available people directly affecting how many patients can be admitted to each two-bed, nonprofit facility. Simmons explained that patients cannot be left unattended, and if volunteers are unable to fill certain time slots, then paid help must be brought in — potentially depleting the facilities’ budgets.
"They’re our caregivers, and without them the house cannot remain open," Snyder said of Vincent House’s volunteer corps.
Volunteers contribute to the special atmosphere of these comfort-care homes, which are ecumenical efforts that provide care at no cost for individuals or their families. Teresa House, named after Mother Teresa, opened in 1993 and is located at 21 Highland Road in Geneseo; Vincent House, named after St. Vincent de Paul, was founded in 2002 in the former convent of Wayland’s St. Joseph Church at 310 Second Ave. The homes provide hospice care for patients with prognoses of three months or less, and are among several comfort-care facilities throughout the Diocese of Rochester that offer the opportunity for a peaceful and dignified death.
Simmons noted that volunteers not only give emotional and spiritual support to people in their final days, but also provide invaluable assistance to the patients’ loved ones.
"They feel so comforted and are given strength. They are allowed to be the family, rather than the caregiver. It cuts down a huge burden," she said.
Most people who volunteer have no experience with hospice care, yet they don’t require any special qualifications beyond a desire to care for people.
"That’s how it starts. Once somebody has that desire to give back, they’re the ones who usually stay," Snyder said.
She added that one needn’t worry about feeling awkward when starting out: "Everybody usually is like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ The analogy is, the first time you bring home a newborn baby, you use common sense. You figure it out."
Simmons said that new volunteers at Teresa House are typically paired up with experienced ones, and there is always a professional caregiver — typically a nurse — ready to give support and direction "if you’re uncomfortable or don’t understand what’s going on" in the stressful times associated with somebody who is nearing death.
Volunteers make a big difference even if that’s not always apparent to them, Snyder added.
"Sometimes it’s my job to remind them of what that experience is — point out to them how they contributed, whether it’s an interaction, a conversation they had with family members, a way they helped someone feel better," she said.
Both she and Simmons said this type of volunteerism is full of gratifying experiences.
"Myself personally, I come away with so much more than I put into this. You find so much grace and dignity in people who are going through things that we can’t even imagine," Simmons remarked, adding that she forms special bonds with patients’ family and friends as well as the volunteers themselves.
"You meet people who come in, strangers, and you almost become a part of family with them," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those who are interested in volunteering with Teresa House may call 585-243-1978, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresahouse.org. To contact Vincent House, call 585-728-2427, e-mail email@example.com or visit http://thevincenthouse.org.