As students burdened with the responsibility of balancing academics, extracurriculars and social lives, it can be easy to become self-absorbed. This is just one of the reasons given by Jamie Lu Knowles, a staff member of Cura Hospice, as to why volunteer work can be so important for university students. More specifically, she probably had in mind those TU students who have chosen the difficult work of volunteering in hospice and elderly care.
Cura HPC is a hospice-care organization, its headquarters located at 6116 South Memorial Drive. The organization serves patients in their personal homes or other institutions located within a 50 mile radius. Cura’s staff, consisting of medical director, case managers, chaplains, social workers, nurses and volunteers, demonstrates its interdisciplinary approach. Hospice patients are educated on their medication, given opportunities for social interaction and provided spiritual support, should they desire it.
In addition to the staff, there are a number of TU students volunteering as companions, a few of whom were able to sit down for an interview discussing their unique experiences volunteering in a field many would prefer to avoid.
These volunteers, Catherine Aaronson, Morgan Jackson and Yiyi Chen, visit nursing homes where Cura HPC has patients. At these locations they ensure that any pain the patients might be in is alleviated via medication or some other form of treatment. They also, of course, socialize with the patients, work all of the volunteers felt was essential for the well-being of the patients. A specific example would be that a few of the volunteers assist their more creative patients in their arts-and-crafts habits by helping them make and hang decorations. Madison and Mackenzie Dawes put their musical talents to work by performing at the nursing homes with Cura patients, one playing the ukulele while the other sings.
Hospice is undeniably unique, so far as volunteer work for university students is concerned. But it’s also undeniably important.
“Hospice is difficult because it’s difficult to see someone dying,” said one volunteer. “But it is so important that these people who are approaching death have someone to talk with and who they know is there with them.”
“When you’re young, old people can intimidate you,” Jamie Lu Knowles added. Things like ‘wheelchairs and walkers’ can seem foreign and perhaps even scary to us as healthy children, but it’s important to remember that, “We’re all gonna get old and we’re all gonna die.” Each of the volunteers working with Cura had their different reasons — Jamie Lu Knowles was thankful that none were simply the student’s need for volunteer hours. Catherine Aaronson had not yet begun to work with Cura, in fact, but had a history of previously working in elderly care. When she began studying at TU, she knew she wanted to continue that work, so she got in touch with Cura. Others, like Morgan Jackson, anticipated a career in the medical field, and so wanted to use the work as preparation for working with elderly patients later in life; for the same reason, she also volunteers to work with children. Yiyi Chen’s inspiration stems significantly from her family history and cultural background. Her grandmother was a medical director at a hospital in China, and so she practically grew up in a medical environment. Eastern cultures, as well, generally prioritize elderly care more than their Western counterparts.
“You can’t just put old people in a nursing home once they’re frail and peace out,” Yiyi said. It was a sentiment all the volunteers could agree on. One volunteer follows the example of their parents: “My mom took care of me when I couldn’t even walk or sit up; they took care of me for eighteen years, how could I not care for them those last ten years when they need me.”
When asked what she hoped to see in the volunteers, Knowles said that she really just hopes to see genuine compassion and a propensity to grow in the students who come to her to work. Students who were quiet at their arrival often grew to be more outspoken through their work with the hospice patients.
As for the patients themselves, Cura works to fight the unfortunate misconception that hospice is something of a hopeless treatment. Many people with morbidly ill loved ones avoid hospice because they believe it might quicken the process of death. This is not the case. In fact, though it is rare, a few hospice patients leave the program entirely after getting better.
Jamie Lu Knowles couldn’t stress enough the importance of the volunteers’ work in the lives of hospice patients. Meanwhile, the volunteers spoke highly of the experience itself, saying that work in hospice had helped many of them to develop their sense of compassion. Most of the volunteers agreed that, at the very least, if we expect the younger generations to take care of us in our time of need, we must do the same for the older generations today.