Volunteers enriching patients' lives at Hospice of the Valley

- For four decades, Hospice of the Valley has provided care and compassion to people in the community, and for that same period of time, a volunteer has been making a big difference, by working with the organization.

On a typical morning, Susan Rose was at Hospice of the Valley's dementia unit, working with a 95-year-old man named Ted Whitfill.

Rose and Whitfill started the day by butting together a puzzle, which was followed by some dancing.

Dancing, it should be noted, is one of Whitfill's favorite activities.

Rose said a filling feeling is what made her to come back to volunteer, year after year. She was first inspired to volunteer at the Hospital, after he Father-In-Law passed away from cancer.

"When the doctors could no longer do anything for him, they didn't want anything to do with him," Rose recalled. "Back then, they weren't very well educated on end of life. So he was in the back of a nursing home, where he was rarely visited. He really wouldn't of had any care and love unless we had taken shifts, and we were there almost 24 hours a day so he wouldn't die alone. I thought nobody should die this way. It's not humane and it's not fair."

Besides playing puzzles and dancing, Rose said her favorite part is listening to the stories the patients have, which allows them to take a walk down Memory Lane.

"They're so interesting. They are," said Rose. "You have people who were farmers, and they came out here after farming. Lives that I don't even know about and it's so fun to listen. One of our patients was a Civil Engineer with NASA, and was building all of these things that I can't even understand. He was telling me about all of these rockets he built and he was so proud of it. He loved to have somebody who wanted to listen and unfortunately when we get old, people don't value us as much."

Officials with Hospice of the Valley said Volunteers bring something different and special to the patients.

"They're friendly visitors, they provide companionship and emotional support," said Stacia Ortega, Director of Volunteer Services for Hospice of the Valley. "They aren't there to do anything clinical. So, it's really being there, offering a presence, listening ear, holding a hand."

Volunteers come in all forms, and they aren't always human. They can be four-legged, like Snickers. The dog, along with his owner Ann Kendall, have been volunteering for several years at Ryan House. The house provides families a state-of-the-art care guide for their children, who may have unique life-limiting or end-of-life illnesses.

John Clayton spends a lot of time at Ryan House with his children Bryce, 10, and Annalise, 7. He said Snickers is a family favorite, and makes all the difference.

"They're always overjoyed," said Clayton. "They love the attention, and they pay it right back to the animals, and it's just wonderful to see how much interaction there can be. In the end at the end of the day, all of the Teddy Bears and all of the animated electronic toys still can't -- they really can't equal one therapy animal."

To learn more about the volunteer program at Hospice of the Valley, click here.

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