Longtime VNA Health Group volunteer Judy Blaha knew from the start that being a hospice volunteer was an important addition to her life. However, she soon got a new perspective on her work once she needed VNA Health Group’s help to care for her own parents.
What led you to become a hospice volunteer?
I spent much of my career at Prudential, where I met my husband of over 20 years. But, in 2005, my parents grew ill and I knew that as one of 10 children, my siblings and I needed to be there for them. I quit my job to care for my parents full-time — it was the best thing I ever did. I quit June 30 and by July of the following year, they were gone
While caring for my parents, I was browsing a church bulletin and read about an upcoming hospice volunteer class. I contacted Director of Volunteers, Pauline DePalma, and joined the class in October 2005.
What types of activities have you done as a hospice volunteer?
In the beginning, I volunteered to visit patients and appreciated the flexibility to go to areas close to home, or, at the time, close to my parents’ home. Spending time with the patients truly is the reward. Even if they do not respond, you can see how you have affected them. Now, I spend my volunteer time in the VNA Health Group volunteer office, organizing orientation binders, making bereavement calls to families and assembling folders. I also assist with Seasons of Hope – VNA’s adopt-a-family program which provides New Jersey families in need with gifts and essentials during the holiday season.
What is one memory that stands out in your experiences as a hospice volunteer?
When Vivian DeStefano, a longtime hospice patient, passed away at age 105 in January 2018, the volunteers worked with the VNA to hold a memorial service at the VNA offices. Vivian’s family, nurses, staff and her own volunteer, Diane Vigilante, all attended and paid tribute to her as we unveiled a photo of her that now hangs in the volunteer office to continue inspiring future hospice volunteers.
What words of wisdom would you give to others considering becoming a hospice volunteer?
It is incredibly rewarding – and you can pick what you want to do. The VNA is flexible and there is always some way you can help. For me it was serendipitous when I saw the class announcement in the bulletin six months before my parents passed away. We are all going to get to that next place, so let’s help when we can.