By Lin Sue Cooney

Hospice of the Valley

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and Hospice of the Valley is so honored to have more than 2,100 dedicated volunteers supporting our mission. They visit and read with patients, run errands and offer emotional support. They bring kindness and companionship to people all over the Valley — in homes, assisted living facilities and our inpatient units. Family members tell us they’re a burst of sunshine — providing a shoulder to lean on and a little break from the challenges of daily caregiving.

These selfless volunteers often drop everything to be there for a family in need. Sometimes, they bring along a pet therapy dog like little Callie that brightens every day with her happy tail and soulful eyes.

“It just warms my heart,” said Holly Thorson of Gilbert, Callie’s owner. “Callie just seems to know the patients need comfort and she gives it to them. It just gives me joy.”

Watching Vicki Zanoni of Mesa cover the tiny pooch in kisses, it’s obvious how much these visits mean. “When Holly’s not looking, I’m gonna take her one day!” Vicki giggled. “I love this dog. She soothes my feelings. When I pet her, I feel good.”

Volunteer Jeff Riddle became the hands for patient Mark Adinolfi, whose progressive disease advanced to the point where he could no longer prepare gourmet meals for his family. He not only enjoyed being in charge — telling Jeff just how thick to slice potatoes or how much Turkish pepper to add to the pork chops — he valued the friendship that grew between the north Phoenix residents.

“Jeff met me in a wheelchair,” Mark said. “He’s not like an old friend who maybe has a little sadness in their eyes when they see how I’ve changed. Jeff knows me exactly as I am now. He’s a genuine new friend.”

A few months after her patient Brian Ferjak passed away, volunteer Betty Schecker of Glendale remembers a lovely encounter with his wife Darlene. There were hugs, tears and lots of laughter as they reminisced about her husband of 15 years.

“Caring for Brian was 24/7,” said Darlene, who was by his side from the time he was diagnosed with liver disease in April 2018 until his death nearly a year later at age 64. “There was no relief. Betty lifted that burden for a couple of hours and she put me at ease. I knew Brian was in good hands.”

Betty came from a law enforcement family and instantly clicked with Brian, who was a 22-year police veteran.

“I like giving the caregiver a break and getting to know the patient,” said Betty, who joined Hospice of the Valley’s volunteer team almost three years ago when she felt called to make a difference in the world. “I needed something meaningful to do. Now, it’s one of the highlights of my life because I get to give back.”

Soon it will be Darlene’s turn to give back. The Sun City woman was so inspired by her experience, she plans to join our not-for-profit agency as a volunteer herself in hopes of providing the same respite and comfort she received from Betty.

Not every volunteer is suited for patient care, but there are so many other opportunities available.

In addition to pet therapy, there is music therapy, which brings such joy to dementia patients who still have long-term memory and can sing along to their favorite songs. Our Shabbat Blessings program brings Sabbath prayers to the bedsides of our patients in our inpatient homes and care facilities. Our tender 11th Hour Companion program provides a specially-trained volunteer to vigil with patients and give peace of mind to family members. Volunteers with Saluting Our Veterans and Honoring First Responders pay tribute visits to veteran and law-enforcement patients at end of life. Our Speaker’s Bureau volunteers give educational talks about our no-cost community programs, such as Senior Placement, which helps families locate living arrangements for parents or spouses who can no longer manage on their own. They also educate groups and companies about Healthcare Decision Planning.

We have 350 passionate volunteers working at our White Dove Thrift Shoppes, with locations in Mesa, Glendale, Phoenix and Scottsdale. The stores raise funds for Hospice of the Valley’s charity care programs. Volunteers also can stitch a beach towel into a bath poncho to preserve the dignity and modesty of patients during bathing. They can arrange and deliver bouquets of donated flowers to patients, answer phones, assist with special events, greet visitors or manage paperwork in our offices. Spanish speakers are needed for patient companionship and to provide grief support for children.

Whatever volunteers do, they make a huge difference in the lives of our patients, families and staff. We treasure them as valuable members of our hospice teams and could not care for our community the way we do — without their dedication, commitment and compassion.

To learn how to join our Hospice of the Valley volunteer family, visit hov.org/volunteer or call (602) 636-6336.

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