Hospice of Homer offers training, range of volunteer opportunities

Furniture movers to office helpers. Garden keepers to providing a compassionate presence in someone’s life. Hospice of Homer volunteers do all of that and more.

Beginning Saturday, training will be offered for those interested in providing direct, person-to-person care. The 33-hours of training are free.

“We do ask people who complete the training and feel they want to be a hospice volunteer, to commit to volunteering two to four hours a week for a year,” said Darlene Hildebrand, executive director of Hospice of Homer.

Lisa Zatz was a California high school student when she became aware of the important role of hospice volunteers.

“My mom started hospice in the town where I grew up,” said Zatz. “I used to ride with her when she gave people rides to chemotherapy and it dawned on me while I was riding and chatting what a difference it made for someone.”

In the late 1990s, after moving to Homer, Zatz went through hospice training. She served as the volunteer coordinator and has spent time directly with hospice clients. Although Hospice of Homer does not offer medical services, Zatz’s nursing background increases her awareness and insightfulness.

“Everybody offers something,” said Zatz, recalling one specific experience when she witnessed the significance of hospice care in a person’s final hours of life. “It was someone who was new to town and didn’t have a lot of friends or family around. I ended up being with them for many hours through the night until the patient passed. I think it was a comfort. … It was a tremendous privilege to be there.”

In another situation, Zatz’s role was to keep the client’s home in the same fastidious condition the client had done. 

“It meant that children and friends visiting didn’t feel obligated to do it,” said Zatz. 

Charlie Gibson has a different role with Hospice of Homer. For the past two and a half years, Gibson has volunteered to move medical equipment and pieces of
furniture as needed,

“When I first started, I thought, oh, this is going to be depressing, but it turns out very rarely there’s a depressing event. (The clients) are grateful and their families are grateful, so it’s a rewarding experience,” said Gibson. “Whether they’re approaching death or recovering from hip surgery and need a bed, it makes it easier for their life and their family’s life. … It’s a perfect little niche for me.”

Gibson meets a cross-section of the community he might not meet if not a hospice volunteer. He also is more aware of his own life.

“I see mortality all the time,” he said. “It’s a good reminder to all of us to appreciate what we’ve got.”

For some, that reminder is uncomfortable. That’s where training comes in.

“Its foundation is for people to address their own feelings and issues around death,” said Zatz. “Until you’ve done that, it’s hard to be helpful. It’s important to find out where you are with the idea.” 

Hildebrand agreed.

“(Training) offers a lot of really good, factual information, but it’s also a personal journey about a person’s relationship to death and dying,” said Hildebrand. “It’s fundamental that we know where we’re at in order to stand with people as they go through it. It also is practical as we each face our own death and the deaths of people we love.”

Hospice training draws on the support of community professionals who address aging, communication, pain management and other areas. There also is support from Homer’s acting community, who presents different scenarios volunteers might encounter. 

In addition to volunteers, Hospice of Homer is currently in need of two board members.  The organization’s “Preparing for the Holidays” fundraiser is scheduled for Nov. 10 at Alice’s Champagne Palace. Tickets will go on sale soon; only 100 will be available.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.