The value of volunteering
“The thank yous I get are worth more than I can say,” says Tami Young, a volunteer with Centrica Care Navigators. “I open all the requests and I always wish I had more time.”
Young has been a volunteer with Centrica Care Navigators since 2021. Every week, she reads through her emails from our team for opportunities to spend time with patients. Most often, she visits patients at Centrica Rose Arbor Place with her pet therapy dog Lebowski. The pair stop in patient rooms to say hello. Patients might pet Lebowski while he sits quietly. Seeing a dog helps keep other patients active, talking about their own childhood pets and staying awake and aware during the conversation.
Visits from experienced volunteers
It’s no surprise that visits from Lebowski and other pet therapy animals are popular. But our patients enjoy visits from all our volunteers, no matter what form they take.
“I get more blessings than they do,” says Kim Westrate, who has been a volunteer for about 10 years. “Families are so generous — I’ve never encountered anyone not kind or not engaged in having a volunteer. They make it so easy to be involved.”
Volunteer Kathy Koets recently marked 20 years of volunteering with Centrica Care Navigators. She too says she gets “more blessings than I think I give,” whether it’s as a companion at Centrica Rose Arbor Place, or during the time she brings her pet therapy dog Lizzy on visits. Kathy’s husband Mike is a volunteer too, for about 15 years.
“We volunteer at our church and at schools, but we couldn’t wait to get back to (Centrica Rose Arbor Place) after COVID-19,” she says. “I really have the heart for volunteering, and the staff has the heart for it too.”
Each day, our volunteer team sorts through requests for volunteer service, and coordinates times and places for volunteers to help Centrica Care Navigators. Sometimes it’s an assignment for companionship, visiting a patient in their home, or like volunteer Bruce, who joins one of our patients throughout the summer to spend a few hours fishing on a local lake.
Other volunteers help with administrative needs. On Valentine’s Day, volunteers traveled to nursing homes to deliver custom-made cards to patients.
Most of Westrate’s assignments are companionship, which she enjoys; she first reached out to become a volunteer because her children were away at college and, as she says, “I was an empty-nester. I had no one to take care of, so I signed up to do the (volunteer) training.”
Part of the appeal, volunteers say, is being able to give back to an organization that helped them. Young’s mother was a patient at Centrica Rose Arbor Place in 2014. After she retired, Young, who had always been interested in senior care, reached out to Centrica Care Navigators to help her find a way to volunteer. She also wanted to get her dogs involved, and by 2020, Lebowski was trained to be a pet therapy animal.
Westrate’s parents also received care from Centrica Care Navigators, and she paused her volunteering to be their caregiver. That helped her understand what our staff does, and how volunteers can support them.
She says volunteers — who aren’t related to a patient like caregivers or managing medical conditions like nurses and doctors — can form a special relationship with patients.
“When you’re alone (after caregivers leave), they talk about spouses and families,” she says. “They say, ‘I’m not worried about me dying, I’m worried about my spouse.’ You can tell they deeply love their families.”
Dogs and hymns
During the COVID-19 lockdown, many patients weren’t allowed to have outside visitors, but Young sent baseball card-like cards of Lebowski just to say “hi.” When pets were allowed back into facilities, Lebowski started making visits every week.
“The value is immeasurable,” Young says. “Sometimes when they touch an animal, they might not even know I was there.”
She’s seen patients who seemed to be non-responsive begin to pet and respond positively to her dog when their hand was placed on Lebowski’s head.
“Sometimes people are sleeping but the family is there (and glad to see an animal),” she says. “It’s a good distraction for the family, especially during this time of life.”
Westrate remembers a patient she met with who was having a low-energy day. The patient was reluctant to move out of his room in the care facility, but with a little encouragement, she got him to join her in the facility’s common area, where she played hymns on the organ.
Shortly after she starting playing, she heard a strong, clear singing voice — her patient had been a pastor, and was singing along with many of her songs. By the end of her visit, other patients joined them, and she led a sing-along of Christmas carols.
“It’s not about the physical,” Westrate says. “It’s more about the emotional, and finding peace. I love bringing comfort.”
You can find out more about volunteering with Centrica Care Navigators by visiting our website or calling 269.345.0273.