By Melissa Weidman

April is National Volunteer Month. Volunteers deserve great recognition as important contributors to many causes. For community-based nonprofit hospices like Hope Hospice, they are essential partners to paid professional staff to help fulfill the organization’s mission. Knowing you are needed and making a difference is important for many volunteers to stay motivated, and for those of the baby boomer generation (currently between ages 53 and 71), making a real difference is paramount.

A recent article on volunteering in a University of Wyoming research journal cites, “Boomers will seek volunteer opportunities in which they can make a meaningful contribution. This generation focuses on quality rather than quantity. Boomers will not be satisfied with fulfilling a role based solely on the needs of an organization. Rather, they will focus on how their skills and interests can fulfill the needs of the organization or program and make a difference.”

Jan Nowak, one of the more than 150 volunteers who donate their time and skills to Hope Hospice, has a long history of volunteering. She started as a candy striper in high school, went door-to-door raising funds for various charities, helped feed young patients at a local hospital, and organized fundraising events. With a successful career in real estate, she could be taking it easy in her own golden years. Instead she is deeply inspired by her past experience with friends in hospice care. And in the process, she has discovered a way to bring her unique talents to others and know that she is making a true difference.

Every week, Nowak shows up at several local grocery stores to pick up some of their flower scraps. She magically transforms them into gold to brighten the day of many in need of brightening. The items she collects are out of date and discarded flowers that the stores can no longer sell. Nowak fills her car with buckets of the donated floral rejects and hauls them to her storage room workshop in the basement of McCarthy Care Center in Sandwich. The center, operated by Hope Hospice, is a licensed hospice inpatient unit, with 10 private rooms dedicated to symptom management and stabilization.

With the help of another volunteer, Nowak separates each of the blossoms and reworks the still useable ones into artful bouquets themed for every possible holiday. She places them in each private room, the dining area, living room, reception desk and chapel. The impact on patients is immediate.

The hospice model of care emphasizes the importance of caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of both patients and their families, in addition to expert physical care and medical pain management. McCarthy Care Center chaplain Gary German says, “I have seen over and over how patients brighten up as soon as they see these flowers. For some, their world has narrowed to only be able to focus on their room. For these people, flowers can be everything. Flowers touch their soul and are often counted among their significant blessings.”

Making bouquets is one example of the many varied roles hospice volunteers can fulfill. Patient care and family support is the primary function of most Hope Hospice volunteers. They help by providing emotional and social support and companionship in the patient’s home or facility, assisting with light transportation, as well as respite care so that caregivers may take a break.

Volunteers help with veteran patients and their families. They also provide administrative support such as answering telephones or preparing mailings, hosting booths or displays at health fairs and community events, working with veterans or assisting with planning and execution of special event fundraisers. Some volunteers provide professional services for which they are licensed or certified such as hairdressing or therapies such as massage, reiki, pet or music therapy.

Like a true baby boomer, Nowak finds immense satisfaction in doing for others in a meaningful time in their lives.

“While you may be in need, someone else is in need too,” she says. “Helping them takes you away from your own needs. Whatever you do for others, the joy you may give to them comes back to you. I always get more out of this than I give.”

Melissa Weidman is Director of Community Relations and Outreach for HopeHealth. She can be reached at (800) 642-2423 or mweidman@hopehealthco.org.

This article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Health & Wealth.