When thinking of family volunteer opportunities, a hospice does not immediately come to mind. Nathan Adelson Hospice (NAH) defies that limited thought process on two levels. First, it is a nonprofit treating end-of-life issues and actively encouraging family volunteer participation. Second, this is accomplished in Las Vegas, Nevada, a city most do not associate with family values.
NAH was founded by a family and has always promoted a familial concept. The opportunities for family volunteers are as diverse as the city’s population. Hospice patients represent all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and histories. Volunteers can choose to be with patients in their homes (which may be a nursing home) or the two inpatient facilities. For those who choose to give their time in non-patient related ways, clerical duties and the thrift store provide the chance to help keep down operating costs and thereby increase the funds available for direct patient care.
Twenty families share their commitment to community with NAH. The youngest is an elementary schooler who comes to hospice every week with her harpist mother, who provides musical diversion to the patients. The oldest is an 85-year-old grandmother, who volunteers with her 13-year-old grandson in the inpatient unit and nursing homes. Married couples, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, parents and children make up the traditional family teams. NAH also expands the family definition to include over thirty pet therapy volunteers. These families consist of the trained volunteer and his or her certified dog. They visit patients and provide canine companionship. Many patients who do not respond to human visits will brighten at the sight and touch of a friendly dog.
Volunteers sign an annual commitment pledging three to six hours a week of their time. Some choose to do this by taking a patient out to eat and shop. Some take their children to the thrift store to help stock shelves. Grandchildren help with clerical tasks while grandparents visit inpatients. Families have helped build storage sheds, organize an elderly patient’s belongings, rock and walk babies in the inpatient unit, and help patients write memory journals.
The 25-year-old volunteer program at NAH officially added family volunteers five years ago, to provide added support to the dying and their families. Their presence is an assurance that the patients are not alone in the final stages of life’s journey. There are those who would wager that a hospice in Las Vegas is not a place for families to spend their volunteer time; however, that is a bet they would lose.