Sit and Reflect in Hospicare’s Poetry Chair

by Teresa Yatsko, Hospicare volunteer

This chair created by Hospicare volunteer Teresa Yatsko is being offered to all as a place to sit and relax, read the writings of others, or consider your own writing as a way of joining the effort to bring people together in the joy and healing power of the written word. Stop by our Ithaca grounds and enjoy! Below is Teresa’s amazing story behind the chair.

The Poet-Tree chair project involves offering a space for people to write poetry and to leave behind their writings for others to read and perhaps be inspired by. There have been seven Poet-Tree chairs placed around Tompkins County to date. I’ve enjoyed the many thrills and benefits of finding notebooks filled with poems and thought-provoking reflections from people of all ages over the last few years.

Recently I’ve been encouraged to share my story. My intention is to share part of that story with you in the hopes that you might consider creating your own unique Poet-Tree chair space and to incorporate the concept into your setting.  My current goal is to write a small book describing my experience and I am looking to include how the concept I’ve developed can be adapted. 

Here is some background as to how this poetry project came to be. A few years ago, I began carrying a small notebook and pencil in my pocket when I hiked in the woods. I started writing short poems and observations about the moments I was encountering. The more I wrote, the more I began to to think about all the people who walked along the same trails and wondered what they had observed, what their experience had been. What if hikers were encouraged to observe their surroundings and then had the opportunity to write a simple poem? Would they?

Around the same time, while on a hike at the Roy H. Park Preserve, I saw someone had left a simple chair made from tree branches in the gorge where the two streams meet. I took a seat and reflected on the beauty around me. I loved the idea that someone had left the chair behind for others to enjoy. Something compelled me to take a photo of the chair. I’m glad I did because a few days later when I returned, the chair was gone. I don’t know what happened to it, but I was determined to make another one and put it back where the original one had been.

As I was building the chair I had the idea of placing a notebook with it where people could write about what they saw or what they were experiencing while they were sitting in the chair. I bought an inexpensive dry bag and inside put a notebook, pens, and short explanation of my discovery of the original chair and the inspiration it sparked. I encouraged people to sit in the replicated one, to relax, and to write if they felt moved to do so. 

A few friends of mine and I hiked into the gorge and assembled the chair. Each of us wrote a poem. I hoped our writing would prompt others to write. A few days later, I discovered several entries had been recorded by fellow hikers. There were simple poems and beautifully detailed observations of the natural world. Entry after entry began to appear over the weeks. I felt incredibly inspired. During the next month I would make six other chairs and place them along the hiking trails of Tompkins County. 

As the months went by and I read more of the writings, I became deeply moved by what was happening. People were using the chair to not only write fun and creative poems, but also to write down snapshots of their lives in that moment. Many of the writings were quite profound. People expressed gratitude for the opportunity to stop and reflect. Many felt a connection to others who had written in the book. It seemed as if a very special community was being formed by having this shared experience of writing while in the Poet-Tree chair.

Hospicare Volunteers Develop Wonderful, Close Relationships

by Jane Baker Segelken, MA, MSW, part of the Social Work team at Hospicare

For Cortland County resident Conni Bentley, volunteering for Hospicare is fulfilling because she’s making a real difference in someone’s life. “The happiness and satisfaction that comes from providing comfort to others is enlightening and rewarding. The more volunteer work I do, the greater my overall happiness,” she said.

Volunteers like Conni who provide five percent of patient care are part of Hospicare’s interdisciplinary team of providers offering support to patients at the end of their lives. Volunteers work in collaboration with Hospicare’s registered nurses, social workers, spiritual care leaders, home health aides, administrative staff, and medical director. What volunteering for Hospicare gives individuals is an opportunity to offer many needed services to the organization and/or the patients and their families.

Hospicare volunteers include administrative support volunteers who work in the office or remotely to assist staff in all areas; community support volunteers who help with peer-to-peer fundraising initiatives or support events; and direct patient support volunteers who assist patients and families in a variety of ways. Currently, Hospicare is most in need of patient support volunteers, especially in Cortland County.

Patient Support Volunteers

Patient support volunteers provide emotional support and companionship to hospice patients and their families. These volunteers visit patients in a variety of locations such as a private home, a nursing home, or an assisted living facility. They spend time sitting quietly or talking with patients; playing games or watching a movie with them; helping them with small household tasks, running errands, or picking up groceries. Sometimes a volunteer will help with a personal project, such as organizing photographs or recording stories. At other times they may bring an instrument and play music. In all cases, the activities are driven by the patient and what he or she believes will be of most value. Visits might be a quick drop in or may last several hours. It’s important to know that volunteers do not provide any medical or hands-on care. Other services volunteers may provide include:

  • Tuck In: a weekly phone call to help identify weekend needs and/or a friendly phone call during the week to chat
  • Pampering: setting or brushing hair, rubbing lotion into a patient’s hands or feet, or painting fingernails
  • Massage: licensed massage therapists offer relaxing massage to patients
  • Reiki Masters: certified reiki masters offer healing energy work to patients
  • Threshold Choir: trained singers (in small groups or solo) offer comforting music to patients and their families
  • Vigil: offering compassionate presence with a loved one in the last few days
  • Grief Support: families receive supportive phone calls and mailings
  • Landscape volunteers: help take care of the grounds including weeding and filling the bird feeders

Conni has served as a tuck-in volunteer, which she says involves “friendly contact with patients by telephone to ensure they have enough meds and supplies for the weekend. Calls are made on Thursday so the patient’s nurse can schedule a visit if needed on Friday to check on the patient or to deliver supplies. Even though the contact is made by telephone, wonderful and close relationships develop with the patient, family member, and/or caregiver,” said Conni.

Having a volunteer as part of the care team is meaningful for patients and families because they offer an extra personal touch of support. “Volunteers are an essential part of the team, offering a compassionate presence at a vulnerable time,” said Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services. “Showing up and meeting patients and families where they are is a win/win for all involved.”

Becoming a Volunteer

How do people become Hospicare volunteers? Many who consider volunteering are already knowledgeable about hospice services because they had a family member or friend who received care. Others may know of the organization because they work in the healthcare field. However, many people are brand new to the concept of hospice. All volunteers have a desire to assist patients as they near the end of their lives with a unique level of solace, camaraderie, and support. To be successful, one needs to be compassionate, empathetic, and a good listener.

Interested in learning more about volunteering? All Hospicare volunteers are required to go through a specialized training, which is held at various times throughout the year. For more information, contact Wendy Yettru at wyettru@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

Hospicare’s Four Legged Companions

The story of Follensby and the Fig Newtons

One of our most trusted and loved volunteers crossed the Rainbow Bridge this spring. Follensby, a beautiful Golden Retriever was a frequent visitor to the Hospicare residence for the past 10 years. Follensby loved being a visitor to the Hospicare and it is with a heavy heart we say “goodbye”.

“Follensby was a sweet dog who brought a lot of smiles to patients, families and staff at Hospicare” said Wendy Yettru, Manager of Volunteer Services. “His is a sweet story that highlights not only the joy that our patients and families get from volunteers, but also the joy that the volunteers get from their work as volunteers.”

Deb, Follensby’s owner, reminisces that “When we visited the Hospicare residence, once I put a bandana on him, he knew he had a job to do and that he was going somewhere special. When we were within a mile or so of the residence, he started getting excited, and when we arrived, he would stop for nothing on the way to the door.  He also knew the residents were his priority, so he would head there first. But if anyone on the way wanted him to, he loved to lean against them while he was petted.”

Deb also remembers a time years ago when they met a little boy who was visiting his mom at the residence. The little boy was eating fig newtons and asked if he could share them with Follensby. Of course, Deb said yes and they sat there for a while munching fig newtons together. It was a beautiful moment where a dog was able provide comfort to a child who was likely going through a sad and confusing time.

Follensby also kept Deb company as she sewed memory pillows and bears for our patients as part of her “Folly Bears” volunteer project. We are so thankful for her generosity and are pleased that Deb believes that it “was one of the most rewarding volunteer tasks I’ve ever done.”

Follensby’s and Deb’s visits were always a bright spot, for our patients and families but also for the Hospicare staff.  He was a bundle of joy and you couldn’t help but smile and be joyful when he was around.  We are incredibly thankful to Deb for sharing him with Hospicare all these years. 

“All of us in the development area are so sad. He was such a beautiful boy and we enjoyed it so much when he came to visit us. I have thought about him often over the past year. He brought a smile to everyone’s face whenever he made his rounds. I was happy to have a treat for him for sharing his big heart and soft furry body with all of us here. He will be missed but is now in a better place and running wild, I’m sure.”

Terry taney, Hospciare community engagement coordinator

Cortland Hospice Foundation Welcomes New Board Members

The Hospice Foundation of Cortland County (HFCC), a nonprofit foundation that supports Hospicare, welcomed two new board members in 2020: Nancy Wainwright and Evelyn Sammons.

A resident of the Cortland area for more than five decades, Evelyn Sammons is a past board member for HFCC and for Hospicare. Now retired after a 30-year career with the Homer School District, Evelyn enjoys reading, hiking and biking. She is a strong advocate for hospice, believing that all patients and families in the Cortland area can benefit from the full range of services available to them, including grief counseling.

Nancy Wainwright, a resident of Cortland County for 70 years, served as secretary for the Marathon Elementary School for over two decades. Nancy enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with family. She views her volunteering as a way to “pay forward” her gratitude for the hospice services her family members have received in the past.  Nancy is also a strong advocate for fundraising, understanding that philanthropy helps patients receive exceptional care.

Hospicare thanks the entire HFCC board for the ways in which they support Hospicare’s mission!

“I’m Grateful for the Many Ways Hospicare Serves Our Community”

“Facing the end of life takes courage, perhaps especially for the family members of patients,” says Pamela Goddard, Hospicare volunteer. “Facing that approaching loss is a difficult thing. But, we don’t have to face it alone. This is the real gift of hospice services—support for both patients and their family members at every step of the way. And, with support, we can find comfort and even beauty in coming to terms with end-of-life and the process of grief.”

Pamela helps offer that support and comfort to others by her involvement with Hospicare. She sings with Hospicare’s monthly Women Singin’ group and with Schola Cantorum, a smaller group that sings at the bedsides of patients. She also takes part in vigils, sitting beside dying patients who do not have friends or family who can be with them in their final hours. On June 10, she will co-facilitate “Gathering the Pieces” with Elaine Mansfield, a workshop for grievers that focuses on ritual, simple mindfulness meditation techniques and shared experience. Pamela will be focused mainly on leading the meditation portion of the workshop, building on her experience as the co-facilitator of a community mindfulness meditation group that meets once a month at the Nina K. Miller Hospicare Center in Ithaca.

All of these activities express her gratitude for Hospicare, she says. “I’m grateful for the comfort and relief that Hospicare brings to friends and their families. I’m grateful for the home Hospicare has provided our meditation group. I’m grateful for the many ways that Hospicare serves our community, and for the many ways the community serves Hospicare. This mutual, vital interconnection is a really beautiful thing.”

Pamela has had friends who have been cared for by Hospicare, and her mother-in-law also received hospice services in New York City, so she has experienced first hand the value of hospice for those who are terminally ill. “I’m a strong believer in the value of respectful palliative care at the end of life,” she says. “I’ve seen how people dear to me have been able to transition with dignity, each in their own way. The ability to make personal choices about how to die, to have some control over this crucial time of life—for the individual and also for family—and to have caring, professional support is such a gift.”

Volunteering with Hospicare has been deeply moving and also fun, Pamela says. “It may seem odd to use the word ‘fun,’ when talking about working with the dying and their families” she admits, “but there’s often humor and lightness in what we do.” Music especially plays a powerful part in her volunteer experience. “It is a heart expanding honor to bring peace, beauty, and even moments of joy, at the end through the power of music,” she says.

Find out more about the “Gathering the Pieces” workshop or about volunteering with Hospicare.

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“Volunteering for Hospice Is So Rewarding”

by Dr. Pat Hayes

Those of you who know me may have heard me talk about how important volunteers are to hospice. They provide crucial help to patients and their families, especially to family members who are in need of respite. Hospicare & Palliative Care Services, our hospice provider, offers patients and their families the chance to have trained volunteers visit them wherever they live, to offer companionship and a helping hand. Most often this means the visit happens in the patient’s own home, but it can also be in a nursing home or other care facility.

Hospicare volunteer Pris Coulter

Recently I spoke with Pris Coulter about her experiences as a hospice volunteer in Cortland County. Pris has been a volunteer for ten years; she first started when Caring Community Hospice of Cortland was the county’s hospice provider, and she has continued volunteering with Hospicare. “I’ve visited patients in nursing homes and in their own homes and just chatted with them,” she says. “I’ve sat with patients who could not speak, and I’ve played cards with others.” Sometimes Pris’s visits to a patient coincide with their caregiver’s need to take a break. “I sat with a patient once while her husband went to the funeral home to make arrangements,” she says. “Then there was the patient who was able to be alone, but his wife needed me to take her to the grocery store because she couldn’t drive.”

In the last year, Pris has added a new dimension to her volunteering—helping with bereavement services. Once a month she goes to the Hospicare office in Ithaca to help with mailings to the families of deceased patients, and she reaches out to patient family members through quarterly phone calls for the first year after a death. “I check in with folks to see how they’re doing and to remind them of the bereavement services that are available, like one-on-one grief counseling with Hospicare counselors, or monthly bereavement meetings,” she says.

Pris is used to the surprised reactions when people find out she is a hospice volunteer. “The first thing out of their mouth is, “how can you do that?’” she says. “I explain that it’s truly rewarding to deal with folks who really have a need for your help. It’s an extremely good feeling to know you are wanted and you have a part in helping them through this difficult time. I’m providing something for them they can’t get anywhere else. That’s why I can do it.”

Pris is also quick to point out the benefits of utilizing Hospicare’s services as soon as a person is eligible for them. According to Medicare guidelines that is when a doctor has determined the patient has six months or less to live. The sooner a patient chooses hospice, the more they and their family members will be able to make use of all the services provided. “Hospicare makes things much more comfortable for the patient and family,” Pris says. “If you’re religious, they offer spiritual care services. If you need help with stress or emotional issues, they have counselors for that. They can provide help with logistical care problems. They have so much to tap into.”

Pris is aware that many people are afraid to be around the dying, but she says it’s not an issue for her. “I don’t know what people are afraid of,” she says. “Death is a part of life. It’s inevitable.”

If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering with Hospicare, call 607-272-0212 or visit the volunteer page of our website.

Pat Hayes, MD, is a retired physician from Cortland County. He serves on the board of directors for the Hospice Foundation of Cortland County and was the board president in 2015. He currently writes a monthly column with Jackie Swift on hospice for the Cortland Standard. This article first appeared in the March 11, 2017, issue of the Cortland Standard.