Serious illness brings change as patients transition to new levels of physical, emotional and social challenges in their home environment. Delaware Hospice’s Transitions Program was established in 2003 as a free community service to help individuals coping with a serious illness but not hospice-appropriate better face those challenges.
With 10 years of experience, coordinators and volunteers have established a beneficial, well-organized program. But in 2003, it was all new to both the first Transitions coordinator, Al Morris, and his first Transitions volunteers, Joe and Cass Hall.
During his training, Morris was told volunteers would be the heart of his program. He claims they are so much more: “They are the heart, the eyes, ears, arms and legs of the program. And along with so many wonderful volunteers on the way, Joe and Cass Hall were our pioneer volunteers who happen to still be serving Transitions clients 10 years later.”
Coincidentally, the Halls and Morris grew up together in downtown Wilmington years ago. All eventually relocated to Rehoboth, but neither knew the other was there. When Morris was ready to launch Transitions and began to search for volunteers, he was pleased to find Joe and Cass were already Delaware Hospice volunteers.
Cass said, “I spent two years helping a dear friend who was battling cancer, and discovered I had a passion for caring for others, so I signed up for Delaware Hospice’s volunteer training and had been serving as a patient and family support volunteer for five years. Joe decided to get involved as well a few years later. Then Al Morris called and said ‘We’re starting this new program and I need help.’”
Joe and Cass remember quite well their first visit to a client in Lewes. Cass said, “We went out with the mission to provide companionship and help these folks out a little bit. We soon learned that people have their own ideas about what that means. I walked in to the home of these very sweet people, and said, ‘We’re here to serve you. What can we do to make your day better?’”
Joe laughed, remembering, “Well, that was like Christmas morning! She had the vacuum cleaner out and I began running the vacuum. She mentioned to Cass that the silver needed to be polished, and then she turned to me and talked about scrubbing the floors."
Joe thought they’d better check back in with Al. He said, “I called and asked, ‘Is this what we do?’ Of course, Al emphatically said ‘No,’ and we learned to set boundaries from that point on.”
Cass said, “I suggested that we go for shopping to Marshall's, and this client loved the idea. So that’s what we would do from then on - go shopping. Joe would stay home and keep her husband company. We provided transportation for shopping, companionship for the husband, and she forgot for a little while that she had problems.”
“There was a learning curve to figure out what it was all about,” said Al. “And it was a good experience for all of us.”
With 10 years of experience, Cass and Joe feel quite expert at assessing each situation. Cass said, “You must be a good listener, hear where they are. They’re mostly talking and rambling on a bit, but you will begin to pick up on what their needs are or where they’re aching the most. Sometimes the most important thing is simply to get out of the home environment for a break, to go to the boardwalk or to get a pizza.”
Cass noted the difference in intensity of the volunteer experience in Transitions versus hospice care. “It was a drastic change. I wasn’t caring for someone at bedside; it was much more relaxed to visit with someone who was up, walking and talking. I enjoy doing both activities; it’s nice to have a balance.”
“It’s been wonderful to have such dedicated and capable individuals to help out," said Morris. “Joe and Cass couldn’t have worked out better. We’ve been blessed with good volunteers, good clients - it’s really the good side of life!”
Cass and Joe agree that it’s been an honor and a privilege to go in a family’s home during challenging times, as strangers. Cass said, “We think it’s an honor, and we never take it for granted. It’s very humbling.”