- Associated Press - Friday, April 17, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Greta Jakstonyte sees her work as a hospice volunteer as an opportunity to help transform a difficult journey.

As a volunteer at Hospice of Laramie, Jakstonyte works with patients who have terminal illnesses. During her visits with patients, she might read aloud, play cards, talk about current events or watch children.

“One patient didn’t have a lot of family in town, so I would go over two times a week and just listen to him and talk to him and provide some companionship,” she said.

Another man was interested in keeping up with the daily news, so they’d talk about what he’d read in the paper during her visits.

Such acts might seem insignificant, but they were important, she said.

“Every time I volunteer, I’m surprised how the smallest things can transform the journey that our patients and their families are on,” she said.

Hospice of Laramie relies on about 20 volunteers as part of a team that also includes physicians, nurses, a social worker and a chaplain. The mission is to provide emotional, spiritual, social and material support to patients, families and friends during the dying process.

The organization also works to promote acceptance of dying as a natural part of life, and has served more than 700 people and their families since 1983.

Kim Dickinson, volunteer coordinator for Hospice of Laramie, said volunteers are foundational to the hospice mission.

“Volunteers have always been part of the care that’s been provided for our patients,” she said.

Volunteers undergo 16 hours of training before they’re qualified to work with patients, plus attend regular training events. In 2014, volunteers contributed more than 300 hours of their time to patient service.

“It’s almost like being an employee,” Dickinson said.

Some volunteers, like Jeffrey Bernard, a registered pharmacist, lend professional expertise.

“An extra set of eyes on our patient’s medications is a good thing,” he said.

Mary Lee Egnaczak followed in her mother’s footsteps when she became a hospice volunteer more than 20 years ago. She sometimes plays games with patients or helps them make phone calls or write letters. She might just sit at someone’s bedside.

She admires patients who work to accomplish goals they’ve set for themselves.

“Even little ones, like write another letter, make another phone call, take another picture, or make another trip to the Snowies,” she said.

Working with people at the end of their lives has helped her be grateful for little things that she might not normally notice, like flowers blooming.

“There are some things that you maybe take for granted, that you stop and pay attention to,” she said.

Jakstonyte said working with dying patients is fulfilling.

“Every single time, I feel like I’m making a difference, and it’s made me a lot more compassionate and more away about end-of-life issues,” she said.

She, too, is reminded to be grateful.

“I see a lot of patients grateful for every little thing, like they were able to eat something, or they had a good night’s sleep,” she said. “I feel like I don’t really appreciate those things as much.”

Hospice of Laramie relies on numerous additional volunteers during its community events and fundraisers, such as Breakfast with Santa, Downtown Toodeloo 5k and Wine Gala.

“It’s our way of being part of the community,” Dickinson said.


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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