Altus Hospice Volunteer Coordinators Across Texas Share Their Stories About Changing Lives
By Kiko Martinez
The personal care that the team at Altus Hospice Care provides would not be possible without the heartfelt contributions from the countless volunteers who step through their doors each year. Volunteers bring a personal touch to hospice patients and their families who are in need during the most difficult time of their lives.
Leading the Altus volunteers is a team of volunteer coordinators from all seven Altus locations in Texas. Each one has the communication and organizational skills and leadership abilities to make the Altus Hospice volunteer program one of compassion and kindness.
Through the volunteer program at Altus, individuals and groups have the opportunity to share their time in a number of ways. This includes direct and indirect patient care, companionship and administrative support, planning special events or serving as a household helper, member of the correspondence team or as a speaker making presentations on behalf of Altus Hospice around their community.
Hearts of Gold
At Altus Hospice in Corpus Christi, Katy Hernandez has been the Volunteer Coordinator since 2013. She started as a college intern studying social work when she saw firsthand the affection that the staff had for their patients. She sees that affection in her volunteers, too.
“The thing I love most about working with my volunteers is their dedication to our patients,” Hernandez said. “I like to work side by side with my volunteers. Every time I do, I feel so blessed and honored to have such a fantastic team who is always willing to go above and beyond what is expected of them.”
For Hernandez, being a volunteer means that someone is willing to give their time back to society and make a difference in someone’s life by bringing a smile to their face.
“It’s a simple gesture to make time to make a visit,” she said. “I advocate as much as possible for my volunteers because I feel as if they are unrecognized sometimes. I believe volunteers have hearts of gold.”
At Altus, Hernandez knows she has found a home.
“The impression the staff has made on me has made me realize this is what I want to do,” Hernandez said. “I look forward for the years to come.”
A Life-changing Endeavor
Volunteerism has always been important to Katherine Lopez, Altus Hospice Volunteer Coordinator in San Antonio. She started volunteering at an early age and attended a university where volunteering was a requirement to graduate.
“I think volunteering is a way of getting involved by serving the community with the intent of making a difference,” Lopez said. “It has shaped me into who I am today.”
The volunteers from the San Antonio area that Lopez has worked with do everything with their patients – from grocery shopping to arts and crafts and everything in between.
“Patients just need someone to talk to and to share their stories with,” Hernandez said. “Volunteers get to help someone fulfill their last wishes and have quality of life for whatever time they have available in life. They help the patient check off final items off their bucket list.”
Lopez considers working with her volunteers the most rewarding part of her job. It has given her the chance to meet and interact with amazing people who have taken time out of their busy schedules to make a difference in the lives of others.
“Volunteering can be lifechanging – not only for the person receiving the service but also for the volunteer,” she said. “The benefits are endless.”
These benefits, she said, include giving volunteers the power to learn significant skills like leadership, patience and compassion.
“Everyone should find something they are passionate about and spread the importance of volunteering,” Lopez said. “It is always rewarding to lend a helping hand.”
As the Volunteer Coordinator for Altus Hospice in Austin, Jessica Santos said her volunteers offer her patients a sense of community.
“Visitors can mean so much for our patients,” Santos said. “For patients who may have no family or friends nearby, having someone want to visit them, not out of obligation but as a choice, provides great joy and can increase the quality of the patient’s life.”
Volunteers who work with patients often describe their relationships with them as friendships. They look forward to the time they spend with them and their families.
“Volunteers enjoy entering into these new friendships and feel their work is extremely valuable,” Santos said. “I believe the reason most choose to volunteer is the desire to be engaged in a community and have a sense of purpose.”
Santos considers each one of her volunteers is a treasure. Two, in particular, hold a special place in her heart. The first is a woman who joined the volunteer program a year after she lost her adult son.
“This volunteer has shown up faithfully each Monday and Wednesday helping with our bereavement program, sharing words of encouragement with our staff each week and working so diligently,” Santos said.
The second volunteer is a Vietnam War veteran who asked to serve fellow Vietnam vets who are patients at Altus.
“He has visited with seven different veterans since he began volunteering,” Santos said. “To this day, he visits with a Vietnam veteran every Monday for four hours to share his friendship.”
Aside from her full-time job with Altus, Santos continues to volunteer on her own time with other organizations. This, she said, allows her to understand the sacrifice people make when individuals choose to volunteer.
“I could not advocate for volunteering so strongly unless I lived it out in my own life,” she said. “Volunteerism is simply each person taking responsibility for their own small corner of this life and doing what they can to serve their space well.”
Making an Impression
Melisa Fountain was initially hired as an office coordinator two years ago before moving to her current position as Volunteer Coordinator at the Altus Hospice in Beaumont. She said she loves that she gets to “work with people that genuinely care about helping others.”
“Volunteering is giving of your time and talents and comes from the heart because you’re not getting paid to do it,” Fountain said. “You’re doing it out of love and wanting to give back.”
Although she admits it would be hard for her to single out any one of her volunteers for the great work they do, there is one young man that has inspired her personally.
“One of my volunteers who has made an impression on me is a young man with special needs,” Fountain said. “Although he has disabilities of his own, he wants to volunteer and help others. That really touched my heart.”
Most of Fountain’s volunteers keep the patient’s company when their family and friends are not able to be there. Having company there, does wonders for the patient, she said.
“Volunteers get a deeper appreciation for life when volunteering with hospice patients,” Fountain said. “They feel a deep sense of satisfaction helping someone during this season of their life. They also make deep connections with patients and their families.”
Fountain hopes more people realize how critical volunteers are to places like Altus.
“If people have the opportunity to volunteer somewhere, they should,” she said. “Volunteering is so rewarding for the patient and the volunteer. It’s a great way to give back.”
A Special Calling
Bobbie Liggins has been the Volunteer Coordinator for the North Houston location since April 2016. She started at Altus as an intern and admits she was not sure how she felt about working with patients who were nearing the end of their lives.
“I was hesitant, but I decided to give it a try,” Liggins said. “I have always been the person who likes to bring joy to others. The day I decided to walk into Altus Hospice was the day I walked into a “special calling.”
As the Volunteer Coordinator, one of the things Liggins likes most about her job is getting to meet volunteers from all walks of life. This includes an 85-year-old gentleman, who volunteers his time to play the piano for Altus patients.
“There is nothing more rewarding than getting calls from families to say how much they appreciate having volunteers visit their loved ones,” she said. “Working with volunteers makes me a better person. My volunteers are my family.”
Along with volunteers who play music for patients, Liggins even has a cosmetology volunteer who styles patients’ hair.
“This is something that is important to a lot of our female patients who were accustomed to getting their hair done regularly,” Liggins said. “It makes them feel good about themselves despite their end of life journeys.”
Liggins believes volunteering is one of the greatest gifts one can give in life. She finds fulfillment when she serves others.
“The wonderful thing about volunteering is that it doesn’t have to be a grand deed,” she said. “It can be something small but make a grand impact.”
Giving Freely of Yourself
Anel Hernandez was a volunteer at Altus Hospice herself before she became a permanent part of the team in Laredo. She enjoys recruiting volunteers for direct patient care because she feels these volunteers want to do something life-affirming and provide companionship for someone in need.
“A patient and their family just want a friend to share in the good times,” Hernandez said. “They are looking for companionship and to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Hernandez remembers one volunteer who would go to a patient’s home and spend time playing cards and board games. She would also go out of her way to stop at the library and check out books on geology, which was a subject of interest to the patient.
“Volunteerism means to give freely of yourself,” she said. “It means giving your time and your expertise in service to others.”
A Selfless Act
“It takes a special person to be a volunteer,” said Kim Keefer, Volunteer Coordinator at Altus Hospice in Houston. “I consider volunteerism as one of the greatest gifts a person can offer.”
The sentiment was especially true two years ago when Keefer witnessed one of the most compassionate and supportive things a volunteer had ever done. During a volunteer’s visit with one of Altus’ long-term patients, the patient began to decline during her visit. Keefer met the volunteer to relieve her and the patient passed away soon after.
The volunteer, who had never experienced death with a patient, remained calm and offered to stay until the RN Case Manager from Altus arrived. The weather, however, was bad that afternoon and the Case Manager was having a difficult time getting to the nursing home.
“The volunteer sat with me as she held the patient’s hand until the RN arrived,” Keefer said. “She handled the situation with grace. She is now an RN for a hospice in North Carolina.”
In Keefer’s experience, hospice patients and their family members always appreciate even the short visits, especially if the patient is residing in a nursing home facility.
“Many times, family members work and visits are sometimes challenging,” Keefer said. “By having a volunteer making short visits provides comfort and peace of mind for family members as well as the patient themselves. Volunteers seem to grow and benefit from the bonds they make with patients and families.”
Keefer said giving of one’s time and not expecting any monetary reciprocation and little recognition is one of the most selfless acts anyone can do.
“I have worked with so many volunteers that have gone above and beyond and exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I hope that after reading many wonderful, inspiring stories, readers will be motivated to contact Altus and ask for information regarding volunteer opportunities.”
Volunteer at Altus Hospice
Although most people may think one needs to be comfortable around “death” to be a hospice volunteer, this is not the case. There are countless ways one can help a person nearing their end of life. From doing laundry to reading books to sharing in conversation, there is always a special way you can volunteer at the Altus Hospice near you.
For more information on how to volunteer a one of the seven Altus locations in Texas, visit altushospicecare.com.
Volunteer Activities Include:
- Pet care – Vet techs, students of veterans medicine
- Personal grooming – Cosmetology artists and students
- Photography – students and aspiring photographers
- Meals – Culinary student and aspiring chefs
- 11th Hour Angels