Volunteering at the Joan Nicole Prince Home doesn’t come without some inherent emotional risk, but it’s also an enriching experience.
“You have to have a certain ability to detach yourself from the work you’re doing, or you could be quite easily overwhelmed,” said Laurie Boromisa of Clifton Park, who spends four hours a week donating her time at the comfort care facility at 22 Glenview Drive in a residential neighborhood in Scotia off Route 50.
The home provides 24-hour bedside care for terminally ill patients who have been given a prognosis of three months or less to live. There is room for two residents, who must also lack the support and the option to remain in their own home during the last months of their life.
“There’s a lot of suffering and the whole dying process. It’s not for everybody, but knowing you’re helping someone come to the end of their life in a dignified, comfortable way is very rewarding. It’s very important work,” Boromisa said.
Sue Tomlinson is the director of the home and its only full-time employee. Along with the volunteers, assisting her are three part-time employees and a handful of workers who are contracted to handle the late-night and early morning hours. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer should attend an informational meeting from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the home.
Tomlinson is a registered nurse and two of her three part-time employees are LPNs.
“I have two residential coordinators, who are nurses by profession, and we have a volunteer coordinator,” said Tomlinson, a former hospice nurse who has been at the home since June 2007, a year after the place opened.
“The people here late at night are not necessarily licensed nurses, but they may be home health aides and other people who are in the health field. And then we have our wonderful volunteers, approximately 170 of them, whom we couldn’t survive without.”
Volunteers work four-hour shifts that cover the time between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Typically, there are at least two volunteers in the home at the same time. Boromisa, whose shift is usually Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., has been putting in time at the home since her father passed away nearly three years ago.
“Through the experience of caring for my father at his home, I developed a real appreciation for the caregivers and what they do,” she said. “I so admired what they were doing. I was able to take care of my father with their help, but when he passed I wanted to give back a little and see what I could do for other people.”
Potential volunteers sign up for an informational meeting and then usually return a few days later for a training session. No special skills are required.
“I felt a bit nervous at first, unsure if I was going to be able to do the job,” said Boromisa. “But I quickly moved into a comfort level, and there’s always other volunteers and the staff there to help you. You feel very supported when you go there, and the families and residents are so appreciative.”
Boromisa said her tasks range from helping people dress to finding their favorite television show.
“Sometimes they just want to talk, listen to music or maybe be rolled out by a window they can look out,” she said. “It depends what kind of condition they’re in. Sometimes it can be hard to develop a relationship with them, and that’s the hard part. You may not always get to know them that well, but what you’re doing is still very important for them and their loved ones.”
According to Karen McCann, vice president of the board at the JNP Home, there are other opportunities that won’t necessarily bring volunteers into close quarters with residents.
“We also need people to cook and clean, to paint, to mow the lawn or snow blow,” said McCann, a former president of the facility. “It doesn’t have to be bedside care. Also, anyone interested in supporting us and the concept of the home can get involved in fundraising events. Fundraising is a very big part of the process here.”
On Saturday the group will hold one of its annual fundraisers, the 5K run and one-mile walk at Central Park in Schenectady. There will also be training sessions for new volunteers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 6 and 8.
“We get volunteers from all walks of life,” said McCann. “Some of them had loved ones who were served here, and others just want to do something to give back.”
Some of the volunteers are college students doing the work because they plan to enter the health care field.
“Our partners include Union College, Albany Medical Center, the Bellinger School of Nursing, Albany Pharmacy and others,” said Tomlinson. “Many of them are going to be health professionals, and this is a great way to give them some experience.”