Hospice Care first came into Noreen Martin’s life in 1975, the year she first joined the US Navy. She was 20 years old and serving in Hawaii.
“One of my assignments was with the Chaplains to escort them to the hospital and basically do what we call Hospice,” Noreen explained. “At that time, it was to comfort the family and the afflicted. Out of that was born an almost 30 year interest in what later became Hospice.”
Between 1980 and 1985, while stationed in Washington DC, Noreen accompanied medical personnel and military personnel to various military hospitals to render comfort to AIDs patients.
“At that time, there were a lot of mixed reactions to AIDs, but as a volunteer, we were just there to comfort,” Noreen said. “It was very controversial for someone serving in the military. But for me, it just inspired me. So when I had the chance to go work for Hospice, I was deeply inspired by my military experience to become a volunteer.”
When Noreen retired from the Navy in April of 1995, she began working at the Salamanca Nursing Home, where she stayed for a year before becoming a corrections officer in 1996. After that, she moved on to the Little Valley Department of the Aging. Despite being a certified nurse’s aide, she felt she would better serve as a volunteer when she joined HomeCare & Hospice.
Her first patient was a female veteran of the US Airforce that had served as a medic from 1961 until 1964. Noreen said due to their shared military background, the patient was very open with her about her experiences.
“We talked about the Bay of Pigs,” Noreen said. “She talked about preparing with her unit in the Airforce who were on alert. For me to deal with another female who was actually prepared to go into combat was very interesting.”
Due to her past military experience, Noreen has served as a volunteer for many patients with a military background. She explained that while some vets are reluctant to talk about their experience, others found it easier to open up to her.
“Knowing that I’m a veteran, that I was in for 20 years, it opened up a porthole that instilled trust and joined experiences,” Noreen explained. “They felt free to talk to me.” Noreen believes that the ability to listen is the most important part of being a volunteer for HomeCare & Hospice, especially when it comes to veterans.
“Listening skills are very much a part of being a volunteer,” Noreen said. “It’s about knowing when to talk and when not to talk.”
Besides being there for the patient, Noreen said one of the most rewarding parts of volunteering is offering respite to the caregivers. Noreen recently took a year off to be a caregiver to her sister, who received Hospice care for three weeks at the end of her battle.
“To me, the reward is addressing the needs of the caregivers,” Noreen explained. “I’ve been on both sides, as a family member taking care of someone as well as a volunteer. I appreciated the role of Hospice and what they did for us. It just motivates me further to stay with the agency.”
After the process of Hospice is finished, Noreen said that volunteers often “leave our doors open” to grieve with the families if they want someone to talk to or someone to listen.
Besides volunteering to sit with patients, Noreen also volunteers for HomeCare & Hospice’s various fundraisers, like the Spring Bouquet Sale.
“I enjoy the volunteering events for fundraising. They’re always looking for volunteers to help,” Noreen said.
During her time volunteering with HomeCare & Hospice, Noreen said she has found similarities between her work here and within the military.
“Hospice is comparable to the military service in that it is a reflection of human dignity and core values,” Noreen said.
Noreen said she would encourage others to volunteer at HomeCare & Hospice and that she has enjoyed her work with the agency.
“My experience has been very positive,” she began. “Volunteers are so important to the role that Hospice plays in the community. It’s a special role for people. Peggy Gillespie (Volunteer Coordinator in Olean) is very easy to contact.”
Noreen said it best when she explained what her job is as a Hospice Volunteer. “My role is to be a trusted friend,” Noreen explained simply. “Before I leave each patient, I always tell them ‘You are not alone.’”
If you would like more information on volunteering for HomeCare & Hospice, please call 1-800-719-7129.