Volunteers – ensuring continuity of care…


Posted: June 10, 2019 | A story.

Hospice Whanganui is fortunate to have the help of 204 wonderful Wanganui people who form the largest part of our workforce – our volunteers. It’s a robust web that our volunteers have woven with their individual and collective contributions, and it’s the sum total of this that contributes to the strength and uniqueness of the Hospice service. The value they have as a workforce cannot be understated. That we wouldn’t function without volunteers is a bold statement. It’s also true.

Like many organisations that have a charitable ‘arm’, Hospice relies on the help of people who give a little (or a little more) of their time to ensure the organisation prevails. For the most part, the view of the Hospice service is largely about the care we give to patients and families. What lies beyond that obvious picture of Hospice care, is a network of people who are diverse, interesting, skilled, social and helpful, all of whom give some of who they are to make the Hospice service what it is.

While the majority of our volunteers are of retirement age, it’s by no means an expectation that they be so. People are living well for longer and enjoy being actively involved in their communities, even if they are of ‘retirement age’. These days, that age can be anywhere between 30 and 80! Our volunteer service as a whole is vibrant, thriving and is comprised of men, women and youth from every sector of our community. Some of our volunteers are of high-school age, some are men and women in their 30’s and 40’s. While there are a variety of reasons that volunteers might come to work with us, for all 204 of them there is at least one thing in common – they want and are able to do something that will help make a difference. For the most part, it’s a small but regular contribution of their time that makes that difference.

The way that volunteers contribute to the longevity of what Hospice does shows in their commitment to the various roles they hold. Into the future, with an ever-increasing ageing population, the care that Hospice provides will likely be present in the lives of an increased number of people. In order to make sure we can do what we do, today and for those who will need us in the future, we need to have people who are interested in volunteering to share their time, skills and enthusiasm with us. Guaranteeing volunteering into our future is an uncertain landscape for us to navigate and is one we will need to negotiate with a significant amount of goodwill.  However, it’s necessary to make sure the Hospice service remains sustainable.

For just a few hours a week, or a few hours more if you like, there is opportunity for you to become involved as a volunteer. At a recent celebration of our service awards, the 47 volunteers we acknowledged at that particular event had collectively contributed more than 70,000 hours of service. Those numbers I believe, are conservative. Several of those present at the awards have been volunteering with Hospice for 10 years or more – two, for over 20 years. As the volunteers we have need to leave us, we need to ensure we can capture the interest, enthusiasm and commitment of those who might be willing to help and who will follow on. Are you one of them?

The largest number of volunteers we have in one group (160) are involved with staffing our three retail stores which are all critical fundraisers for Hospice. Every dollar raised in our shops is income we need to keep the Hospice operational. As the large majority of our fundraising income comes from retail, it is vital that the retail sector thrives. With such a large number of volunteers working in different positions within each store, that current success is obvious. Building on that and trying to ensure retail has longevity as a fundraising stream, is something we need to be acutely aware of as demand for Hospice services increases over time.

There are a variety of roles at each store, from attending the sales, to delivery, pick-up and sorting of goods. Many of our volunteers are skilled handy-folk or have a creative flair that they are able to use for the benefit of the presentation of our stores. There is a great deal of behind-the-scenes work here also, with experienced volunteers repairing/checking goods for sale, or cleaning and sorting clothing or household items.

Our beautiful gardens are well-known to many and are enjoyed by families, visitors and staff alike. From small beginnings back in 2002 when the inpatient unit on Virginia Road opened, we now have a lush garden, established, interesting and an absolute pleasure to wander through. Our gardening team which now numbers nine, have the responsibility of maintaining our patch of land and its beauty is a fitting tribute to all their hard work. Rain or shine, every Friday they come along, prune, weed, sweep, clip, water, dig, landscape, plant… it’s no surprise that the gardens look as magnificent as they do.

We have volunteers who work in the inpatient unit, either as receptionists or assistants to the nursing staff. The receptionists are charged with the responsibility of being the first face and voice of Hospice, for managing visitor and caller traffic and for keeping the communication flowing. They escort visitors to the unit and offer hospitality to those waiting. The inpatient unit assistants have a role which sees them supporting the nursing staff by taking on some of the lower-priority non-nursing tasks – all of which is helpful to the clinical staff on busy days. Making and delivering morning teas for patients, changing the linens in the bathroom, maintaining the welcoming appearance and atmosphere in the family lounge… all of these things contribute to the quality of the experience our patients and families have while they are with us.

There is a group of volunteers who offer their time as companions/visitors, biographers, or bereavement supporters. They have one-to-one roles with patients and/or family members and these roles are acknowledged as privileged by those who hold them. Our visitors are available to keep company with patients who perhaps don’t have family who live nearby. We recently appointed a volunteer for a patient who loves to play chess. The visits are all about the chess – a little bit of chat, but mostly about the chess! Visitors can also provide a few hours of respite for those who are caring for loved ones at home. 

Biographers have a similar role to that of visitors – the difference is in the taking of notes during conversations in order to construct a memoir or life story for our patient. Our volunteers have said how much they enjoy being a vehicle for this to occur and genuinely love hearing peoples’ stories. At the conclusion of the visits the information is fashioned into a (usually chronological) story, which is then bound and given to the patient and their family to keep.

Bereavement Support volunteers work primarily with family members after a death and are available to help with processing and managing the grief that follows. These volunteers work under the supervision of the social worker. Part of the grief support that Hospice provides is the opportunity to attend both social and educational gatherings, which the volunteers also assist with the delivery of. Their involvement with families often has a significant positive impact on how the path of grief is negotiated.

Other groups of volunteers assist with events such as Ladies Night, or the Good in the Hood promo. There are also in-house events, raffle sales, the newsletter project – all things our event volunteers can have the opportunity to be involved with. There are also roles that include admin help, we have delivery volunteers and someone to clear the collection boxes. We even have handymen and a valet for the community nursing vehicles!

So whether you have a few hours to spare once in a while, a few hours on a regular basis (or a few hours more), would you be interested in spending some of that with Hospice? If there’s something that might interest you, please be in touch on 349-2697. We need to future-proof our volunteer service and protect our ability to deliver care for our families. We can only do that with your help.

This story about volunteering appears in our current issue of Heart & Soul, the Hospice Whanganui newsletter. If you would like to receive a copy of the newsletter via email, here’s how: