Honoring the priceless gift of volunteering
All throughout the month of April, hundreds of individuals and families served elders, persons with disabilities, and their caregivers and loved ones in our community by volunteering with LifePath.
Annmarie Newton, Ian Dore, and Robert Amyot all volunteer for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program at LifePath. Annmarie and Robert are both retired, and Ian is a senior at UMass Amherst. Each week, the volunteers visit the residents of their assigned long-term care facility, acting as advocates who help ensure quality of life and quality of care for all. They spend just a couple of hours there, hearing resident’s concerns, advocating for their rights, and helping resolve their complaints, but their dedication makes a big difference in the lives of the residents.
Robert Keating, a resident* of Quabbin Valley Healthcare in Athol, Mass., describes the work of these volunteers well. “Ombudsmen serve a very useful service as a go-between and are very helpful to people in need. There are people who need somebody to be their spokesperson. If they have help in this area, they can tell their problems to someone else who would represent them. It’s very helpful perhaps all the way around” because helping a resident in need also provides a learning opportunity for all those involved in a dilemma.
Some residents would be intimidated by an “official,” says Ombudsman Annmarie, who sees her role in a different light. “An Ombudsman is someone that they can feel at ease with, laugh with, and talk to. My goal is to make people feel better, to make people feel comfortable, to make people feel good about themselves, to make people feel happier or more content. I hope and pray by the time I leave that they feel better.”
Ombudsman Ian has spent the past year volunteering at Buckley Healthcare Center in Greenfield, Mass. “It’s important to a lot of the people here,” he says. If he misses a week, he feels bad about making people wait. “It’s good to be there for them when they’re expecting you. You feel a real connection with them.”
Joy Page, a resident of Poet’s Seat Health Care Center in Greenfield, values her conversations with Ombudsman Robert. “I look for him, week after week. It’s delightful when I do see him – like an old friend.”
If she felt anxiety while discussing a concern with him, Ombudsman Robert assured her that their conversation was confidential. “He just handled it, and it was all well and done. It’s very comforting to know that there’s someone like this.”
“You tell them, ‘This is confidential,’” says Ombudsman Robert, “but remind them of their rights. ‘Well, you should speak up,’ helping and encouraging people to speak up for themselves.”
Joy feels that she has become a better advocate for herself. “It opened me up. You used to hardly be able to get any word out of me.”
Her whole life, Joy has been “seeking out people I could trust,” she says. “This group here: this is it.”
April also happens to be National Volunteer Month. It’s a good time to think about the impact you have had this month and to imagine what you could do in the coming months as a volunteer.
Over 450 people each year find fulfilling experiences by volunteering with LifePath. Explore your options and call us at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259 or send us email. Build lasting connections with elders and people with disabilities and learn new communication and problem-solving skills, be a part of a vibrant team working together to solve problems in our community, and teach others in the community how to improve their well-being.
*All interactions between Ombudsmen and long-term care residents are confidential. All residents interviewed for this article have given their written consent to share their words and likeness.