Ed Richard of Cranston would never describe himself as a hero.
But for Deanna Upchurch, grief support & volunteer programs manager for Hope Hospice & Palliative Care Rhode Island (Hope Hospice RI), Richard is a shining example of the many heroes that serve as volunteers for the organization.
“We have more than 330 volunteers, all of whom are essential partners to our paid professional staff to help fulfill our mission,” Upchurch says. “We are delighted to especially celebrate and thank them in April for National Volunteer Month. Ed is an inspiration to us all as he’s taken on so many different roles here. He’s become a fixture we depend on.”
Richard’s journey to this dedication began like many other volunteers at the non-profit – he experienced the services himself, as caregiver for his wife, Bev Richard. They were happily married for 26 years, after meeting through mutual friends. “One night she came over for dinner,” Richard chuckles, “and never left!” They got married on Richard’s fiftieth birthday. Long-term residents of Cranston, he was an information systems installer, active in the National Guard and Reserve and she was an office manager and mother of two.
Then Bev Richard became gravely ill with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). At the end of her prolonged illness, living in a nursing home, a Hope Hospice RI nurse and social worker were brought in to help them both.
“They were so compassionate and concerned, I’d never experienced anything like that before,” Richard says.
Bev Richard passed peacefully there in 2013 and Richard attended Hope Hospice RI’s bereavement support groups for the next year. “I came in not knowing which way to go forward. But after about a year, I figured out a new life to live. It was an amazing transformation.”
Richard emerged ready to volunteer and jumped in with both feet. “When I get involved in something I like, I really get involved. I went a little overboard for two years.”
Upchurch confirms that Richard did just about everything. “He provided transportation, made bereavement phone calls, led groups, volunteered at Camp BraveHeart, our grief support camp for children and at the Weekend for Hope & Healing, our adult grief retreat.”
Upchurch helped Richard focus in on what he most loved – the bereavement groups that had given him so much support in his grieving process. He even co-presented a grief workshop with her at the Hospice and Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts Annual Conference. He now leads the ongoing six-week-long Loss of Spouse support groups in both Wakefield and Providence. “Facilitating the groups still does a lot for me,” Richard says. “Just to be able to watch the progression puts it all in perspective. It helps me remember that everything changes if you can go with the flow and allow it to change.”
More than 22,446 hours were donated to Hope Hospice & Palliative Care Rhode Island by volunteers in fiscal year 2016. That’s the equivalent of approximately 11 additional full-time staff. Volunteers are considered staff. Some of the activities that volunteers regularly assist with are: playing cards, reading to patients, helping with child supervision, preparing a light meal, housesitting while a family attends a wake or funeral, assisting with a special project such as writing a life review or making a scrapbook.
Patient volunteers must be at least 18 years old. All volunteers must conform to agency policies and complete an application process including an interview, criminal background check, reference check, immunization record check, completion of compliance requirements and competency evaluations. Patient volunteers complete approximately nine hours of in-class instruction. New trainees should be without a significant loss within their family or among their close friends at least one year before entering direct patient/family care training.
“We cannot do what we do without our amazing volunteers” Upchurch says. “While National Volunteer Month gives us a special reason to recognize their contributions, it’s all year round that we depend on them. I like to say that the last great thing that might happen in someone’s life is a hospice volunteer – they are that important!”
Richard agrees with his fellow volunteers that this is some of the most satisfying work he’s ever done, and he’s going to keep coming back for more. “Once I saw that hospice was so full of love and compassion, I really wanted to be a part of that.”