If you have visited our beautiful hospice center in the past year since we opened, there is a good chance you’ve been greeted by two very dedicated volunteers. Those chances are so high because John Hoffman and Gary Boulet, both of Danbury, have collectively logged more than 500 hours since the beginning of 2016 alone! All of our 330+ volunteers are extremely valuable members of our team, but John and Gary’s dedication deserves special recognition.
The Morning Ritual
Several mornings a week John and Gary rise early from their respective homes, don their red Regional Hospice and Home Care polos, and head for their post at the Center for Comfort Care and Healing. Like all of our morning Lobby Greeters, they are often the first to enter the building – ahead of most office staff and family visitors. This makes their roles especially important as their oversight of the front entrance and the visitors’ desk sets the tone for the bustle of activity that takes place during the day.
A Warm Escort
That tone is one of undeniable warmth as both men are quick with a smile or a few words of welcome as they register Center guests and guide them to their destination. Although they could simply sign in visitors and then hit a button to provide them entrance to the patient area, they prefer to personally escort new guests, understanding that hospice care is often scary and uncertain territory for those visiting loved ones.
Putting the Happy in Hospice Care
As Gary, who started volunteering with the Center at the beginning of 2015, explains, “I know what they are here for. But if I can instill peace and joy by doing this, we’re ahead of the game.” He goes on to state, “I want people to know that this is not a place of death and sorrow; it’s a place of opening to your new home. I have seen so many people coming through that doorway. I’ve seen the grief, and I’ve seen the happiness. You need to put them together.”
He remembers one family in particular that he had gotten to know well. After their loved one passed, Gary attended the funeral. When those family members saw him standing there in his red RHHC shirt they were stunned. “You could see it in their eyes that they were thinking, ‘wow, he took the time to come here.’” They stepped out of the procession to give him hugs. “That meant so much to me,” he shared.
A New View on Hospice Care
John, who has been a volunteer with RHHC since March 2014, agrees that greeting family members is very rewarding. “I can relate to patient families. I have a sense of what they are going through and how difficult it can be,” he explains. After serving as the primary caregiver for his wife, Lynn Palmer, who passed away in 2014, he is able to harness empathy and compassion to establish rapport with new visitors, getting to know them by name.
John believes that, “A lot of people have big misconceptions about hospice. They think it is an overwhelmingly depressing, sad place.” Many people seem to think that the hospice center is like a nursing home, and he assures them that it is “completely different.” He has noticed a change in people’s perceptions after they take a tour or experience the caring environment firsthand. “After they get used to coming here they realize it isn’t a nursing home or hospital, they generally seem pretty relaxed.”
Hospice Volunteers Are Special
It is often said that it takes a very special person to work in palliative and hospice care. This is especially true for dedicated hospice volunteers like John and Gary, who could easily choose to sleep in or spend their days in countless other ways. Instead, the two friends humbly and graciously fulfill and appreciate their roles as volunteers. Without their smiling faces, the Center for Comfort Care and Healing would not be the same.
On behalf of all of our staff, family members, patients and fellow volunteers, we thank John Hoffman and Gary Boulet for their compassionate dedication.