Volunteer Spotlight: Paula Bernander
We are continuing with our series of volunteer spotlights during National Volunteer Month with a young woman who continues to give her heart and care to Pathways.
Meet Pathways Volunteer: Paula Bernander
Pathways volunteer since: Summer 2017
What does your role as a Pathways volunteer entail?
I started volunteering doing companionship visits at facilities in Fort Collins, but have recently been serving in Weld County homes providing companionship and respite care. I live in Fort Collins, but am a graduate student in Greeley, so I am grateful to serve in both areas.
I feel my role is to provide a smile and open ears to our patients along with the assurance that they are loved and cared for by our team and me. I also check in with them on their comfort/pain and to see if there is anything I can pass along to another member of the care team. Sometimes I am also able to meet or connect with patient’s families or friends in these ways too.
What skills/habits have served you well as a hospice volunteer?
I think the most important skill I have is a warm smile and an honest interest in whomever I am sitting with, regardless of their life circumstances.
Is there a good memory or experience you can share?
There was a woman I visited nearly every week over the course of a year and a half who became a dear friend. She was in her mid-nineties and had a phenomenal life (a grand love story, triumphs and great sorrows, courage, gumption, and humor through all things and had even started a hospice herself in the 1970s and was a hospice volunteer for decades). Sometimes we would talk about her kids, or about the sweet story of meeting her husband, or her childhood memories, or her frustrations with pain and decreased independence. She would always start our visits by asking, “How you do, darlin’?” She would not let me off the hook until I had told her about my own week. When my beloved stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago I had told her my visits might take a hiatus. Not two weeks after he died, she called me to see how I was doing. I was floored. My dear friend, while dealing with all of her own health issues, and soon to be hospice admission, not to mention dementia and severe hearing impairment, had thought of me and called wanting to take care of my tender heart! When she was near the end, I visited more often and in the days before her death was able to meet many of her family members for the first time. It was such a sweet thing to feel so close to all of them, in fact to be talking to them in the way I knew them “as the kids” when they are all more than 50 years my senior. We still text each other from time to time.
What would you say to someone interested in volunteering at Pathways?
I’d say that it is hard on the heart BUT it is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life. It seems strange and unfair, but the love and learning I have received far outweigh what I have been able to give myself. This is nothing like “work.” It is truly a privilege and I consider it a calling or vocation, even if it is only for a few hours each week.
If you would like to volunteer at Pathways, please visit pathways-care.org/volunteer/ or email Deb Hayman at firstname.lastname@example.org.