By Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care
Volunteering can be one of the most rewarding positions a person can have, and studies have shown that not only does volunteering help the community, but it also provides health benefits to the volunteers themselves. However, finding your right fit is the key to having an inspiring experience.
We rely on our volunteers to make a deep difference to our patients at Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care and at the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home. They provide meaningful companionship to people during their end-of-life journey and respite for families. Some volunteers have been with us for nearly two decades, staying with various patients for months and sometimes years.
I believe that everyone, regardless of age, background, or skill set, has something to share. That said, while volunteering can be for everyone, not every volunteer post is for everyone. You must understand yourself and the organization to create the best volunteer experience. You have many choices if you want to volunteer. The list of opportunities is endless, from food pantries, animal shelters, and children’s programs to hospices, hospitals, and nursing homes.
“But to choose the right place, you have to ask questions of yourself and the organizations,” advises Janela S., Old Colony Hospice’s volunteer program manager.
- Consider your motivations. Most people have a mix of reasons. Ask yourself why you want to volunteer: Do you have a connection with a certain organization? Do you want to give back to the community? Do you want to meet new people? Do you want to develop new skills with new experiences? Figuring out your motivations can help you connect with an organization where volunteering can be mutually beneficial.
- Identify your interests and passions. You are more likely to find a good fit if you’re interested in the cause, so take some time to ask yourself some questions: What causes are close to your heart? Do you have activities or hobbies you enjoy? What skills or talents do you have that you could share in those areas?
- Understand the time you can devote to volunteering. Be realistic about the time you can commit to volunteering. You might have only an hour a week, or a day a month, or just a few hours every once in a while. Deciding on the hours you can commit will help you narrow down the places you might volunteer.
- Explore opportunities. Find a few volunteer positions that you find interesting. You can look online, watch local community boards and newspapers, contact an organization that interests you, or ask friends and family. See if a group or place where you already have contacts, such as work, church, or schools, has a volunteer program.
Once you find a few opportunities that interest you, research the organizations to understand their volunteer requirements. What will your responsibilities be? Will you be working on your own or with others? Do they require applications and interviews? Depending on your role, you might be asked to do background checks and drug testing. Many require training before you will be able to serve as a volunteer. Because of the investment organizations put into their volunteer programs and the sensitivity of the positions, some will ask you for a time commitment. For instance, if you are mentoring a student, it works best if that relationship is long-term. Or, if you are volunteering with a hospice, it is important to have consistent people coming into patients’ homes so as to not be disruptive at this end-of-life time.
You should also consider the support the organizations give to their volunteers. Do they have a structured program and people to help you? Do they do check-ins? Will they provide training so you will be prepared for the challenges you might face? Are they fully explaining the situations you might find yourself in? For instance, if you want to volunteer on a suicide helpline, will you be prepared to talk to the people reaching out? If you’re volunteering with a hospice, will you understand how to visit with and support the family of an Alzheimer’s patient? If you decide you cannot do one volunteer job for an organization, you might explore if they have other posts. For instance, at the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home, volunteers do a range of duties, from visiting with patients to gardening and making meals.
Studies have shown that volunteering boosts mental and physical health, so if you’re able to give your time and energy to a cause or group you believe in, it can be worth it for you and them. To make the most of it, though, take the time to ensure it’s a good fit.
“Volunteering can be so rewarding; it’s true. But if you’re not prepared, it can be a difficult experience. Helping a patient and family during the end of life is so meaningful, but we don’t want people going out with false expectations or without the confidence and training they need to handle the situations,” Janela S. points out. “The key to a good volunteer experience is to volunteer at the right spot.”
Toni L. Eaton, RN, BSN, MS, is the President & CEO of Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care of West Bridgewater, a dynamic non-profit hospice serving more than 55 communities south of Boston. OCH also runs the Dr. Ruth McLain Hospice Home in Braintree. A native and resident of the South Shore, Toni brings her compassion and experience as a nurse, veteran, and community leader to her insightful columns for South Shore Senior News. She is also the founder of Sunny Paws Dog Rescue. Several groups have honored her leadership, including the South Shore Women’s Business Network. She currently sits on the board of the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts. For more information, call (781) 341-4145 or visit Old Colony Hospice & Palliative Care at www.oldcolonyhospice.org.