By LINDA COMINS, For Prime Times
Baby boomers and their older compatriots are busy people. Not only are they working and tending to their own needs, but also they are helping others — perhaps tending to grandchildren and/or caring for aging parents and other elderly relatives.
At the same time, many of these busy boomers and seniors in the Ohio Valley still find time to be volunteers, reaching across the generations to assist children, aid the needy, help elders, provide comfort to the dying and solace to those of all ages who have suffered a loss.
While April is designated as National Volunteer Month across the United States, Valley Hospice officials say hundreds of volunteers are celebrated daily for the generosity and selfless hours they spend on behalf of patients and their families throughout the Ohio Valley.
Debbie Barto, Valley Hospice’s volunteer director, recruits and trains men, women and teens to serve in a variety of positions at Valley Hospice’s Liza’s Place Care Center South free-standing hospice house in Wheeling and its Care Center North at Trinity East in Steubenville as well as in private homes, nursing homes and hospitals. The agency has more than 200 volunteers serving in this capacity.
“Our adult volunteers are primarily senior citizens and those who are in the so-called baby boomers group,Ó Barto said, adding, “Boomers provide a steady source of hospice volunteers. They have life experience and time on their hands and often want to give back to the community, especially to hospice if they have experienced what we do firsthand.”
Volunteers at Valley Hospice may choose from numerous opportunities to serve. They visit patients in their homes weekly or visit patients in nursing homes, hospitals and both care centers. In addition they work in the volunteer office on mailings, at public informational events, as readers in the Bobby’s Books program for children, as greeters and as cookie bakers for the cookie jar for patients and families at both care centers.
Although Liza’s Place and the care center at Trinity offer on-site hospice care, some patients often only stay there for a short period of time if their home caregivers cannot provide the necessary care for a variety of reasons until they return home, Barto said. Symptom management also is a major part of the care provided through hospice, she said.
Each volunteer has his or her own reasons for commitment to Valley Hospice and volunteering in general.
Wanda DeTemple, 73, of Moundsville retired after a long career as administrator for the Wheeling Teamsters’ health program. She and her husband reared four daughters and enjoy their 10 grandchildren.
For a while, she was a volunteer in an exercise program at East Ohio Regional Hospital’s long-term care unit, but once a friend talked to her about her experiences as a Valley Hospice volunteer she decided to get involved as an in-home volunteer and greeter and she’s never regretted it.
“So many people you talk to have a false impression of what hospice is all about. The direct care provided at the care centers is marvelous and allows the family caregiver a needed respite once in a while,” she said.
DeTemple recalls how her volunteering made a difference in the life of a local family whose elderly mother was confined to the home. The woman’s granddaughter played softball for a local high school. Her parents had not been able to see her play since she entered high school.
At first, they were uneasy about leaving the home during DeTemple’s weekly visit. After reassuring them that it was not necessary for them to stay, she convinced them that they needed to go to their daughter’s game. The girl’s mother, DeTemple said, was on the “verge of tears when she came back from the game. It gave me cold chills.”
On her next visit, DeTemple sent them to watch their daughter compete in regional playoffs in New Martinsville. The couple worried that they would inconvenience DeTemple since there would be some travel time that would make them late.
“They called to say the game was in extra innings and I explained that I was there for the duration. We built a good relationship and it meant as much to me as it did to them that they could watch their daughter play ball,” DeTemple said. At the same time, she enjoyed being with the patient who, although uncommunicative, responded with a smile when DeTemple massaged her arms or put lotion on her hands.
DeTemple had a little prior experience in caring for the elderly as both her mother and mother-in-law resided with them in their final years. She recalls that many people were good to their parents and she believes she is giving something back as a volunteer. Her positive example has influenced her 16-year-old granddaughter to become a hospice volunteer recently.
Bob Rine, 84, of Wheeling experienced Valley Hospice care during the last six months of his wife’s life in 2009. Citing the care she received as “invaluable,” Rine wanted to give something back. The retired Weirton Steel employee and his wife had moved back to Wheeling, their hometown, in 2000.
When the Bobby’s Books program was announced, Rine thought that reading to children was something he would enjoy. Reading the books to the children at Liza’s Place once a week reveals a particular message about coping with various aspects of growing up and life in general.
“Bobby’s Books is it for me. You read the books and there is a message there. We have a snack and craft session. It is good for the kids, especially those with a terminally ill family member,” he said, adding that he would encourage others to follow his lead.
Moundsville’s Elizabeth Taylor reared three children with her husband in Cameron. Once the children were grown, Taylor was asked to fill in as a cook at Cameron High School, something she didn’t think would be a long-term event but which kept her busy for 21 years. She and her husband are now retired and living in Moundsville. Their journey into hospice care was a very personal one.
Taylor’s son-in-law contracted cancer and died at the age of 50. The couple lived in Chester at the time. Taylor recalls how her daughter finally conceded how difficult it had become for her to cope. Hospice care lifted some of that stress when he was admitted to the care center at Trinity East for the last week of his life.
“When I saw them lift the burden from that young woman, I wanted to be a part of it,” Taylor related. She participated in the volunteer training sessions and now serves as an in-home volunteer providing companionship to the patients and respite for the family member to leave the house to attend to shopping, appointments and anything else needed.
Cookie Olson Dolfi spent years in the classroom mixing paints and teaching students the art of art in Ohio County and at Buckeye Local. The West Liberty State College graduate is a widow who retired from teaching in 2006 to spend time with her children and grandchildren. She’s been engaged in volunteer activities on several fronts, most recently with Valley Hospice on the telephone for the Call Partners program.
Dolfi became a champion of hospice when her newborn grandson received hospice care in Columbus. Wanting to become involved locally, she discussed her options with Barto who felt she was a “good fit” for the Call Partners program. Volunteers make monthly telephone calls to the family of hospice patients who have died. The program continues for 12 months. Dolfi explained that the volunteer calls to ask how the person is doing, if they need anything, or simply to listen or talk.
“We want to know if we have been useful to the family, if they might like to talk to a bereavement counselor at Valley Hospice, or, if they have any questions. This is a grief journey and we are there to help them get to a place where they can move on,” Dolfi said. If there is no answer, they leave a message or send a letter to the person.
“People are really receptive. Sometimes they just want someone to talk to. It is very satisfying. I find I get more out of it than I put in,” she said.
Dolfi also keeps busy volunteering at Tiltonsville United Methodist Church and at the adult fitness program at Buckeye Local High School.
One of Valley Hospice’s long-time volunteers is Morristown resident Lois McDowell, 77, who serves as a bereavement Call Partner. McDowell began her hospice career back in the 1980s when former Valley Hospice executive director Karen Nichols was heading up one of the first hospices in the tri-state area. But McDowell’s roots with hospice began 20 years before that when she and a group of neighbors cared for a 41-year-old cancer victim by providing care for the woman in her home. The group was told they actually were performing hospice, a term they had not known at the time.
McDowell, a widow, has a willing ear for those who have lost loved ones whom she calls monthly as part of the program. She also was the first caller for the program that was initiated nearly 16 years ago.
But volunteering at Valley Hospice is just one of this busy septuagenarian’s activities. She has been volunteering at the Belmont County Health Department for 10 years and is a member of the Council of Retired Senior Citizens board of directors, a group under the umbrella of the Community Action Coalition.
Not one to ever sit still, McDowell’s career has included jobs as a licensed practical nurse, dental assistant, restaurant worker and more. “I don’t know how people get up in the morning and don’t know what they are going to do every day. I have a plan. You have to make yourself go and become self-sufficient,” she said, adding that she expects that her desire to help others comes from the fact that “that’s the way I was raised and guess that’s the way I’m put together.”
VALLEY?HOSPICE?volunteers, including baby boomers and seniors, gather at Liza’s Place hospice in Wheeling for one of their periodic training sessions. Social time for the group’s March gathering featured a St. Patrick’s Day theme.