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MANSFIELD — Bill Shaw thought about becoming a hospice volunteer for decades, but didn’t believe he had what it takes.
That all changed a few years ago when his brother got sick.
Now, the 82-year-old retiree and Navy veteran is a volunteer for Gentiva, a hospice care provider formerly known locally as Kindred Hospice.
Shaw began visiting his younger brother Jim every day after he had a stroke. He could no longer speak, so Shaw would read him a daily devotional and pray with him.
“I wouldn’t (volunteer) before because I didn’t think I qualified,” Shaw said. “I was ministering to Jim for months. And then I realized that this is something I can do.”
In addition to daily visits with his brother, Shaw now spends a few hours each week sitting with hospice patients. Some like to talk, others simply want someone to sit with them while they watch TV.
Gentiva’s volunteer coordinator Joe Curry said Shaw has a heart for people. He hopes to find more volunteers like him in the near future, as Shaw is currently Gentiva’s only volunteer in Richland County.
Curry said all it takes to be a hospice volunteer is time, empathy and a love for people. Most volunteers sit and visit with hospice patients, though some might run errands or perform light housekeeping, make phone calls or provide administrative support.
It all depends on the person’s skillset and comfort level.
“If you’re a people person and you love just getting to know people and talk, it’s the perfect opportunity,” he said. “You’re providing a friendly face and a smile.”
It may not sound like much, but Curry said volunteers can make a big difference to a patient and their family.
“If someone is actively dying and they’re a social person, loneliness can be crippling,” he said.
“A lot of the times if you are sick, people leave you alone because they think you want to rest. Some people don’t want to rest, they want you there.”
Volunteers can also provide much-needed respite to family caregivers, who may leave to run errands or simply get out of the house.
Curry said volunteers are never responsible for a patient’s medical care. If a patient were to have a medical issue during a visit, volunteers can call him or the 24/7 nurse line for immediate assistance.
“Every time I have a visit, I make sure that I’m near my phone or near my computer, so if anything happens, it’s a quick response,” he said.
Volunteers also receive 12 hours of training prior to visiting patients. Curry said the staff chaplain and bereavement coordinator also available to provide volunteers with support, especially in the wake of a patient death.
“We become attached,” Curry said. “It just happens, it’s a human thing.”
Shaw has been volunteering for about three months, so he’s only had one patient “graduate” from hospice — a 96-year-old woman named Ellie.
Shaw visited Ellie once a week for four months.
“Every time I was there, she would ask me my name,” he said. “I was there to minister to her and she was ministering to me instead, because she was just a delightful lady.”
Shaw said volunteers aren’t to force their faith on anybody, but he still carries a beige devotional book with him on his rounds — the same one he reads from on trips to see his brother.
If someone wants to talk about faith, he does. If they want him to read a devotional or pray, he will.
He’s also stepped out of his comfort zone by serenading patients.
“I can’t sing, but I do anyway,” he said. “Nobody has told me, ‘Stop singing, you sound terrible.'”
Shaw said his faith motivated him to become a volunteer. It’s his way of carrying out Christ’s command to care for one another.
“I think the Lord put that on my heart,” he said. “For some reason, it’s something that I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do that years ago, but I didn’t think I’d be very good at it.
“I’m grateful that I did it. I’ve met a lot of nice people and it gives me something to do besides sit around and worry about me. I can help somebody else.”
Gentiva is currently seeking volunteers to be a friendly face to patients in Ashland, Richland and Knox counties. Volunteers must be able to pass a background check, tuberculosis test and drug test. Test costs and background check fees are covered by Gentiva. For more information, contact Joe Curry at 740.263.2248 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.