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Make a difference in your community

From left: Carol Kuszewski, Genesys Hospice volunteer, with patient Janet Simion. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
October 20, 2010 - Editor's note: The 20th anniversary of Make a Difference Day is today, Oct. 23. This is the second in a series about ways you can make a difference by volunteering in your community. This week, learn how you can help through Genesys Hospice and Mid-Michigan Therapy Dogs. To see last week's featured volunteer opportunities, go to:

When Carol Kuszewski's brother was a hospice patient, she was in awe of the volunteers who made his last days easier.

She wondered how they could do what they do, knowing that the people they volunteered their time for were dying. Now she knows.

"You let God do the talking for you," says Kuszewski, who has spent the last nine years as a volunteer at Genesys Hospice Care Center, 7280 S. State Road, Goodrich. "It's very rewarding to bring joy to some people who are suffering. You have to give it a shot. You don't know the rewards until you experience it."

Janet Simion, a hospice patient for the past three months, is one of the people whom Kuszewski brings joy to, just by sitting and talking with her.

"The volunteers are very helpful," said Simion as she enjoys a cup of tea. "They are lovely people. I admire them because they do such a splendid job of talking to you and making you feel better."

Marge Christiansen, an Ortonville resident, has been a volunteer with Genesys Hospice for the past five years, taking patients to the worship services in the center's chapel, visiting with them, delivering meals, or filling in whereever needed. She believes she is making a difference and also feels she is getting even more in return than she gives.

"I've met a lot of wonderful people, both patients and other volunteers," she said. "It's made a difference in my life... It's not as sad as people would think. Hospice is the final place, but life is good in there— the care is good and the people are at peace and living with dignity."

Volunteer opportunities abound at both the 22-bed inpatient facility, as well as the home hospice program that includes all communities in Genesee County. Volunteers are needed to provide breaks for caregivers, run errands, do light housekeeping or meal preparation, and just to give companionship, said Loraine Travis, Genesys Hospice volunteer coordinator. No direct care is required.

In the care center, volunteers can do a variety of things with patients— such as reading to them, playing cards, praying with them, or even taking patients out shopping or to lunch if they are up to it.

Help is also needed in arenas outside of patient care, including clerical, fundraising, and more.

"A lot of people don't want to be with someone who is dying, but they still want to help," noted Travis. "They can answer phones, do filing, or data entry if they are computer savvy. There is really something for everyone... The volunteers are everything. It amazes me what they are capable of and willing to do for people they don't even know."

Jan Parhat is volunteering at the hospice on a recent afternoon, joined by her young granddaughter, as well as a volunteer of the furry kind— her dog Taj.

Taj and Parhat received training through Mid-Michigan Therapy Dogs. Now they visit the hospice, as well as Whaley Children's Center and Veteran's Hospital.

On this day, they bring a smile to the face of Mary Lou Reed, the mother of a Genesys Hospice patient, as she strokes the head of the dog who sits next to her. Reed seems to draw comfort from petting the animal, which is what Parhat hopes for.

Parhat knew this kind of volunteering was something she wanted to do when she saw the effect it had on her father when he was a hospice patient five years ago and a doctor brought in his Yorkie and laid the dog on her father's chest.

"My Dad's eyes lit up when he did that, and it stayed with me," said Parhat.

Now, she watches as Taj has the same effect.

"Their eyes light up when they see the dog," she said. "A lot of times family members enjoy the dog, and they need comfort, too."

To become a therapy dog volunteer, you must attend classes that take place over the course of 12-weeks. In these training sessions, dogs learn to sit, stay, come when called, leave it, how to be separated from handler without becoming too anxious, and close proximity with other animals. Upon completion of the course, a dog will receive a canine good citizen certificate from the American Kennel Club. The dog and handler will then go on field trips where they are presented with different volunteer situations and learn how to act in those settings.

The next 12-week training session will be in March at the Goodrich United Methodist Church. For more information call Caroline Glasscock at 810-308-9921 or Mark Williams at 810-397-8673.

For more information on becoming a Genesys Hospice volunteer, call Loraine Travis at 888-943-9690.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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