Morning light poured through the window, dancing through the bevelled glass as it came. It pooled on Judy Burch’s desk where she sat, arranging papers.
Burch then heard the front doors open, looked up and smiled.
“Hi, how are you?,” she cheerfully queried. “Do you know where you’re going or do you need help?”
The visitor politely declined, moving past the fresh cut flower assortments down the hallway of Hospice of the Golden Isles. For Burch, it is these sometimes brief but meaningful encounters that makes her proud to serve as a volunteer for the local nonprofit.
“I’ve been here for over two years. I was living in Princeton, N.J., and was a school principal. All four of my children were living in Georgia, so when I retired, I came to St. Simons Island,” she said. “I wanted to get involved in the community so I pursued the Hospice route. I’m not really sure why I did, but I just did. And I’m so glad that I did.”
Burch, like the other volunteers there, spends her time in various ways. Sometimes she’s focusing on administrative tasks. Other times, she is interacting with patients or their families.
“I feel like I’m the one who gets the most out of (volunteering) even more than the patients. But the patients are very appreciative. Their faces just light up when you talk to them. It’s been really beautiful,” she said.
Interactions with family members of the patients are equally rewarding.
“I’ve met some of the smartest, most interesting people here. They come from all over the world and it’s wonderful to sit and talk with them,” Burch said. “And they certainly need someone to talk to. It’s really enriched my life.”
Burch’s experience mirrors many of the other volunteers that visit the location in northern Glynn County. Rather than finding dismal or a macabre setting, they find a sense of peace and hope through their daily interactions.
“I really didn’t know anyone who had used hospice before I signed up to volunteer. But I’ve grown to really appreciate the process of death because here it’s treated with so much respect and dignity. There is nothing morbid about it at all,” she said. “I’ve known people who have died and I hope that they were in this kind of situation when they passed.”
That is the kind of feedback that makes Susan Ricci, the volunteer coordinator, smile. She understands that these interactions offer innumerable benefits for the patients and their families, as well as the volunteers themselves.
Ricci is hoping that more people will be willing to discover how volunteering at Hospice of the Golden Isles can give them the same sense of fulfillment. And she could use as many new volunteers as possible — they currently have 40 open slots.
“We really need people now. We had quite a change ... just from regular life stuff — people have moved or retired and moved. We could really use as many as we can get,” she said.
There are a variety of ways volunteers help Hospice. They can do administrative work, interact with patients and act as bereavement volunteers. Ricci says there is a place for everyone.
“Some people might not be comfortable interacting with the patients and that’s OK. We have people who don’t,” she said.
Patty Crosby, vice president of development, said there are other options outside of the center, many that include upbeat, social gatherings.
“There are a lot of different ways you can help. We need volunteers to help us with fundraisers like the Food and Spirits Festival or Wine, Women and Shoes,” Crosby said.
“We have a lot of people who are good enough to give to us monetarily, which is a huge help since we are the only nonprofit hospice in the area,” Ricci said. “We also have people who donate their talents. We have someone who plays the piano. We’d love to get someone with a musical therapy background.”
Joining as a volunteer is simple and can be adjusted to meet anyone’s schedule. Ricci said protocol includes a federally mandated training program and some paperwork. But Ricci will be on hand to help with all of that.
“We can truly meet anyone’s schedule with the volunteering or the training. We have options for mornings, afternoons or evenings. You can come as much as you like, whenever you like,” Ricci said. “All they have to do is just give me a call or stop by to meet me. I will give them a tour and get them started.”
And with the arrival of the new year, the staff is hopeful that the call will be heeded. Crosby said it is the perfect way to fulfill one’s resolution to give back.
“It’s a new year and if your resolution is to give back, this is a really great way to do it,” Crosby said with a smile.
For more information or to volunteer, email Susan Ricci at email@example.com or contact her at 265-4735.