Sometimes you meet someone and a natural connection just happens, like an unstoppable force of magnetism. That’s precisely what happened for volunteer Breanna Hanan and hospice patient, Alice.* What started out as a routine college credit requirement, quickly turned into meaningful life lessons and an unexpected friendship.
Breanna, an upbeat, cheerful young lady pursuing a nursing degree at North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS), was required to complete 20 hours of volunteer service as part of her education. Having witnessed hospice care in a nursing home where she works as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for three years, Breanna sought out a volunteer opportunity with Hospice of the Red River Valley to fulfill her requirement. In Oct. 2013, she was matched with her first patient, Alice.
Volunteer Coordinator Kristi Sherven recognized the opportunity for Breanna to connect with Alice because Breanna’s commute to and from class in Wahpeton, N.D., had her driving through Alice’s hometown of Wolverton, Minn., regularly. “I had hoped Breanna would stop by on her way to NDSCS to provide a companionship visit twice a month,” Kristi said. “But Alice enjoyed Breanna so much, she asked if she could change the request to weekly visits.”
From their first meeting, Breanna’s time spent with Alice consisted of much more than companionship, as they were comfortable with each other almost immediately. The two spent hours together completing tasks that were too cumbersome or extensive for the patient to tackle by herself.
Breanna helped clean and sort through clothing, among other projects. “I’m not a baker, but Alice had been a home economics teacher, so we made cookies together,” Breanna explained with a smile, recalling a favorite visit with Alice. “She showed me what to do every step of the way.” Another enjoyable task was sorting photos and arranging them in albums. “Alice had many photos from her travels to Europe and the East Coast, and I really liked looking through them with her,” she said.
Not only were the activities fun, but the patient and volunteer found a common thread in their senses of humor. “We’re both so silly,” Breanna described. “We enjoy each other’s company.” They connected through their silliness, but also on a deeper level. “Alice has a very positive outlook on life,” Breanna explained. “She’s taught me how to live in the moment and not to focus on the negative.”
Kristi understands the importance of pairing appropriate volunteers with patients. “Sometimes a natural bond forms between the volunteer and patient, and things just click,” she explained. “My heart was warmed when I heard Breanna talk of her time with Alice.” Breanna even requested to continue visiting Alice after her required credit hours were complete; even Minnesota winters can’t keep her away!
Kristi observed, “Breanna has gone above and beyond, and shown true dedication. Roundtrip to and from Alice’s house is 50 miles, and Breanna stays for up to two-and-a-half hours with Alice each visit!”
Breanna had already considered a career in hospice care before volunteering, but the experience further strengthened her interest in the field and the organization. “I didn’t know the whole team of separate disciplines came together to care for each patient so completely,” Breanna said. All team members–including physicians, registered nurses, CNAs, social workers, chaplains and grief specialists–attend regular meetings to discuss each patient’s care plan in detail.
While Breanna completes her degree, she intends to continue volunteering well beyond her required credit hours. “I love how compassionate everyone is at Hospice,” Breanna shared. To people who think they could never volunteer for Hospice, she says “It’s fun! Alice is like my grandma, and I really enjoy visiting her.”
Editor’s note: To respect patient privacy, the patient’s name has been changed in this story.
At Hospice of the Red River Valley, we are fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers. We celebrate their contributions to the organization. Click to find out more information about our volunteer program and how to apply.