Volunteers overcome fear to find meaningful work at newly opened comfort care home

NAPLES — Suzanne Jaquin retired five years ago from teaching elementary school. After a long career in education, Jaquin, who lives in South Bristol, had more time to spend on other endeavors. She wanted to volunteer and at something meaningful.

Jaquin found Hospeace House.

Hospeace House in Naples recently reopened as a two-bed comfort care home at County Road 33 in Naples. The transformation comes after years as a four-bed hospice, then a period of vacancy after financial difficulties forced its closing. The home for the dying is one of about 30 comfort care homes in New York state that provide a place for residents and their families to feel at home and supported.

The need is great with not enough comfort care homes to satisfy requests from families, said Jennifer Emmons, Hospeace executive director. Since Hospeace reopened following extensive building renovations and refurbishing and outfitting the house, the nonprofit has taken one resident. Recruitment and training of volunteers is ongoing as Hospeace is about halfway to its goal of 150 volunteers in direct resident care.

Emmons said last week a local family was anxiously awaiting for the go-ahead so a loved could move in. Hospeace needs additional volunteers to ensure all the shifts are filled and so it can sustain full-time, round-the-clock care, Emmons said.

Volunteers receive six hours of training over three days, for two hours each day. Training times as well as times to volunteer are flexible and can work around a person’s schedule. Direct care can mean many things, including reading to a resident or simply spending time sitting with them — “being a friend,” said Emmons.

For Jaquin, deciding to volunteer at Hospeace wasn’t immediate. She had a friend who signed up and together, they decided to do the training and discover if it fit. It did.

Many people want to help but are afraid, said Emmons, who is one four paid employees. Sherie Heins of Naples is volunteer coordinator, and overnight staff are Kathy Stanton of Naples and Faye Langley of Honeoye.

Emmons has seen volunteers arrive visibly shaking because they are so nervous. No one has to do anything that makes them uncomfortable and just knowing that puts people at ease, she said. She added that volunteers never volunteer alone and some people even enjoy training and volunteering with a friend.

Wendy McKee, a first-time comfort-care volunteer who helped when Hospeace had its first resident since reopening, explained what it was like. “I had always been afraid,” McKee said about volunteering in a home for those who are dying.

But she felt driven. “I was keen to do it,” she said.

The first resident was a grandfather who spent a lot of time with his family, including grandchildren, during his stay that lasted about a week.

“This was their home,” said Emmons, who showed off the house with its colorful rooms and spacious deck overlooking a backyard with swing set, picnic tables and walking path through the woods. She and Heins and McKee talked about the time the family spent together. It was nice because the grandfather could watch his grandchildren playing, along with having time with other members of his family. In the living room two big drawings the kids had done were draped across a table, ready to go up on the refrigerator.

In the kitchen, volunteers Jaquin and McKee joined Aubrey O’Connor, a 2016 graduate of Marcus Whitman High School now an occupational therapy major at Keuka College. O’Connor is doing a two-week field period at Hospeace toward her major. She participated in the orientation and training the volunteers go through. She was impressed. O’Connor said everything was presented in a clear, easy-to-understand way and she felt thoroughly prepared and supported.

Heins said anyone interested in learning more about volunteering can contact her. No medical experience is necessary. In addition to resident care, volunteers can help in other ways including clerical, gardening, meal preparation, cleaning, fundraising and serving on an events committee.

Visit https://hospeacehouse.org/volunteering, email Volunteercoordinator@hospeacehouse.org or call 585-374-2090.