Tag Archives: volunteering

Do More of What Makes You Feel Happy: Or Why I Want to be a Spiritual Care Volunteer

16 Jan

For the past two years I have been trying to find a different kind of volunteer role.  I have served on boards and planned events; I have shopped for gifts and supplies; I have written and stuffed letters; I have organized and directed. But I wanted something that was more one-on-one, where I could actually help someone. Something that would give me an important obligation and destination once I totally retired. Something that had meaning.  It is important to me to give back, to do tzedekah, to make a conscious, ethical commitment to do good.

Then I listened to a radio podcast that featured my sister-in-law.  In it she said something that resonated with me:  Do More of What Makes You Feel Happy!

I realized that something that makes me feel happy is making others feel happy.  Many times, when I am with someone not feeling well, or feeling blue, I just want to help them laugh before we leave each other.  I learned years ago that laughter really makes people feel better. The saying, “Turn that frown upside down and smile,” sticks in my mind.  I decided I needed to find a volunteer role that would help people feel emotionally better.

Several years ago, I participated in a two-day training program put on by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and our local Jewish Federation called, Wise Aging. We were taught how to facilitate a program for people who were in a transitional stage of life, from 50s to late 70s. We learned the skill of mindful listening. We learned about mindfulness and meditation along with dealing with transitions.

I really enjoyed teaching classes with my co-leader on the transition from thinking about the aging process to living in the aging process and how to make it a most positive experience.  But we are not doing as many workshops. I needed something else that might use the skills I learned from this workshop.

Then life happened.  Someone I know for years was in a rehab facility.  I went to visit her and saw what my visit meant, even though we were not close friends.  Then a good friend of mine was in the hospital and then rehab for months.  I started visiting her once a week when I was in town.  She loved the visits.  Even when her husband came, they wanted me to stay. Having outside company was comforting and helped them passed the time.  Besides making them happier for the company, it made me happier because I know my presence helped them.

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The booklet the volunteer dropped off.

One day when I was there, a man stopped by and gave her a booklet.  He was a spiritual care volunteer.  Since she had company he dropped off the booklet and said he would be back later.  Hummm the wheels in my brain already started to turn.

I remembered back to when my parents were sick.   I would fly to NJ every five weeks and spend a week there.  Many times, I was just going to the hospital every day.  My siblings wondered how I could sit in the hospital or nursing home all day long. They could not do it.  But it did not bother me.  I also remember the volunteers who came from the local synagogue to visit the hospitalized.  I had several nice conversations with them.  I remember thinking what a great way to do a mitzvah.

I remembered back to when I was a teenager and worked as a candy striper in a local hospital.  I had one incident that changed my desire to be a nurse, but I always liked helping others.  (See blog link below.)

Recently I was in Israel when my daughter had surgery. I spent several days in the hospital. Many times, my daughter’s roommate did not have someone there when I was there, so I helped her as well.  It made sense to me.  It is ‘gemulat hasidim,’a deed of loving kindness to help the sick.

My mind started ruminating over a specific volunteer opportunity: visiting the sick, or in our community Spiritual Care Volunteer.

I realized that this might be the best fit for me.  I like people.  I like to talk to people.  Sick people do not scare me.  I think some people are afraid to be around someone either old, or just someone who is sick.  It does not upset me.  The more I thought about it, the more considering volunteering as a spiritual care volunteer seemed right for me.

And then there were the ‘signs’!

One day while visiting my friend, the local rabbi in charge of Jewish Family Services’ Chaplaincy Program appeared to visit her as well.  I saw this as a sign.  The spiritual care volunteers are part of his program. I do not see him that often, and here I was thinking about calling him to volunteer when he showed up.  So right then, I told him, I want to do this.  It has been on my mind ever since. But. I did not follow up, I had much going on.

I went to Israel to be with my daughter.  When I come back from Israel. Rabbi Rudnick emailed me to comment on a blog I wrote about being in a hospital in Israel.  I took this as my second sign that I am really meant to be a spiritual care volunteer. I, in turn, emailed him and I reminded him that I wanted to participate in this program.  He put me in touch with another person at his agency to get more information.

My third sign is that the 12-hour training, which is to begin soon, is actually on days that I can attend!  That is amazing to me.  It really must be a sign that this is the right role for me.

I have filled out the paperwork, had my interview, had my rabbi write a letter of recommendation.  I am all set.  Next week I begin my training.  I have made a one-year commitment to this program.

I hope that I can give comfort to those that need comfort; listen to those who need to be heard; pray with those who need prayer; and cheer up those who need cheering.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/04/16/my-time-as-a-candy-striper/

My Time As A Candy Striper

16 Apr

My 45 year old Candy Striper cap.

I still have the red and white searsucker cap that I wore as a Candy Striper at Hudson County Hospital, New Jersey, in the 1970s. I am proud of the time I volunteered to cheer up patients and help the nurses.

Our job then was pretty easy to do, we did whatever the nurses asked us based on the rules issued by the office of volunteers. For me it was important to help others, and visit the sick.

Several days a week, after I finished my classes at North Bergen High School, I would go home and change into my white and red pinafore and take the bus along Park Avenue to the hospital.  Once there I would check in to the volunteer office and get my day’s assignment. I usually worked for two hours. That was perfect as my Dad would pick me up on his way home from work.

My favorite assignment was to go and visit with the children who were in the hospital.  I knew how to create creatures from paper having learned the art of origami when I was 10.  I often brought some square origami paper with me.  When I ran out the nurses would find colored paper for me to use with the children. It was two hours of fun for all of us!

I tried to visit every room with children. In those days visiting hours were restricted. Parents could only be with their children for several hours a day.   I knew from my own stay in the hospital how sad and lonely it can be.

Making origami figures

 

It made me happy to bring a bit of joy to a younger child and leave behind a little gift of a bird or box or frog.

But I did not always get assigned to the children’s ward. To be honest I did not like having to help in the adult rooms.  You never knew what you would see, especially on Mondays.  Often on Mondays, the results of a weekend of carousing were evident in hospital beds filled with adults who had been in car accidents.  I really did not like to see people in traction and stitched up.  I would get a little sick to my stomach when ever I entered a room. But since, in those days I wanted to be a nurse, I did whatever I was asked. So into a room I would go carrying the sheets or other items as requested.

My time as a Candy Striper lasted not quite two years. It was on a Monday…accident day… that it ended.  I remember entering a room,  then waking up in the volunteer office and seeing my Dad talking to the director.  It was my last day.

I did not do anything wrong. Just walked into a room, as I was told to, and ended up being there just as a man died.  I passed out. I am not proud of that, nor of the fact that I did not go back. But the sight of blood and death did not make a positive impression. I realized then I would never be a nurse.

It made it difficult, years later, when I married a medical student.  While others would visit their spouses when they were on call, I did my best to avoid the hospital. For me heading over to the hospital for a chat was just not my idea of fun.

As the years pass, I learned to let go of my discomfort in hospitals.  I no longer get a sick feeling in my stomach when I enter a hospital. I am aware of the good aspects along with with difficult ones.

Overall I have good memories of my time volunteering as a Candy Striper at Hudson County Hospital. I believe that the time I spent with the children and helping others were the part of my upbringing that enhanced my belief in the importance of volunteering. My time as a Candy Striper made a positive impact on my life.