Hospice of Hamilton honors its volunteers

Millville resident Al Schneider has been recognized by Hospice of Hamilton as the 2012 winner of the Donna West Award for volunteerism.

Schneider has been volunteering at Hospice of Hamilton for about 3½ years, he said.

When he retired from Macy’s department store, a fellow parishioner from Queen of Peace Church enlisted him to help perform the Eucharist at Fort Hamilton Hospital.

“I would go past here every time I went to the hospital and wondered if anyone was performing Communion here,” he said.

So one day he stopped in and asked, and suddenly became one of about 80 hospice volunteers, who cumulatively log about 38,500 hours a year, according to Jenny Oldham, volunteer coordinator.

Schneider comes in once or twice a week, not only performing the Eucharist with Catholic patients, but also spending time as a “companionship volunteer.”

“Al never met a stranger,” Oldham said. “People come up to him out in the community, give him a big hug and thank him for the work he’s doing.”

“He’s an awesome ambassador for us,” she said.

Schneider said that he and other volunteers joke that they’ll never get a pay raise, but there are rewards that go beyond money.

“I love people,” he said, “and I don’t have to talk to them about their medical situation, but about their families and jobs.

“Sometimes, they can’t communicate well, but if they give me a thumbs up or something, that’s the reason I do it,” he said. “If I can put a smile on the face of someone who doesn’t really have a reason to smile, that’s fulfilling.”

Oldham said that the Donna West Award, named after a former Hospice of Cincinnati patient, has been given out for 20 years to honor Hospice’s volunteer force. The selection is made through nominations and voting by the Hospice staff and other volunteers.

“Al came in here and hit the ground running,” Oldham said.

In addition to spending time with patients, volunteers do everything from helping run the front desk to folding linens and filling water glasses.

“Some of our volunteers work with home care patients, giving respite to caregivers so they can go out to lunch or get a hair cut,” Oldham said.

“For our patients in nursing homes, they can simply be a friendly visitor for someone, taking them outside for a ride in the wheelchair,” she said. “For a lot of them, our volunteers can be the only visitors they ever get.”

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