Hospice volunteers get chance `to make a difference'


January 04, 2001|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TURNING TO A fresh page on the calendar - a new month, a new year, a new millennium - is a perfect occasion to shed old habits and slip into something more productive. You might try a new experience that gives you the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life.

Become a volunteer.

A list of the worthiest organizations in this county that function on volunteer power must include the Hospice of the Chesapeake in Millersville.

Kathy Bourgard, director of hospice volunteer services, heads a team of about 320 volunteers - the number varying day to day - who spend a few hours a week helping others.

"Volunteers all report back that they get much more out of it than they put in," says Bourgard, who is also a patient-care volunteer. "There are very few other things that we do in life that make you feel like you have made a difference.

"The largest group of volunteers work with hospice patients. Patient-care volunteers are members of the community who, for the most part, have no medical background. But they are people who want to make a difference in the life of patients and families."

After a volunteer takes a mandatory 21-hour training course, he or she is assigned to one family, staying on as long as the patient is with the hospice program.

"The main purpose of the patient care volunteer is to provide respite for the caregiver," Bourgard says, adding that what they do is "provide a loving heart and an open mind for the patient."

Severn resident B. J. Pilkins has been a Hospice of the Chesapeake volunteer for three years.

"I was in England working for the Red Cross in the 1970s," says Pilkins, whose job was caring for American military families.

While in England, the birthplace of the hospice movement, she became interested in the program, she says

"Basically, we go in and try to be a friend," Pilkins says. "Caregivers work 24 hours a day, and we give them a couple of hours off."

Pilkins says she likes to help patients review their lives and that putting together a scrapbook is a favorite method.

"Since you're not a family member, there's not all that baggage," she says. "You sort of tune in to that person. It makes my life very sweet."

Once trained, a patient-care volunteer can become a bereavement vigil volunteer available on short notice to be with a patient who has no living family members and is dying alone.

Volunteers are needed in all areas of hospice service, such as providing clerical support in the Millersville office and assisting the staff at Chesapeake Hospice House, a six-bed residential hospice on Camp Meade Road in Linthicum.

Chesapeake Treasures resale shop in Park Plaza on Ritchie Highway, a financial resource for the hospice, is managed and staffed by volunteers.

Decisions for Hospice of the Chesapeake are made by President Erwin E. Abrams, a volunteer board of directors and a foundation board. The operation is financially supported by its volunteer auxiliary through fund raising.

The next volunteer training class is planned for late March or early April, on what Bourgard calls "two marathon weekends."

A fall training session, usually beginning the second week in September, is held one day a week for 10 weeks.

"Before each session," Bourgard says, "we hold a volunteer information night so people can get an idea of the program before signing up."

Information: 410-987-2003.

Another volunteer-run organization is Partners In Care, which has its office next to the Severna Park Safeway on Benfield Road.

Designed to help the elderly and disabled stay in their homes, the program is like a savings account for volunteers.

For each hour of donated service, an hour of service credit is earned. That credit may be used later or donated to the program for others.

Director Barbara Huston oversees the work of nearly 300 volunteers who are helping more than 635 people throughout the county.

Volunteers generally donate a little time each week, but because the program is flexible, some choose to work once or twice a month.

Volunteers might be available to talk. Some do office work.

Partners In Care sponsors a handyman program that is perfect for the retiree who can hang a curtain rod or tighten a doorknob, little projects that are often too much for an arthritic hand.

Partners In Care volunteers also run the Discovery Shop, a resale store on Ritchie Highway formerly owned by the American Cancer Society.

Applications and brochures: 410-544-4800 or 800-227-5500.

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