Friday, September 30, 2022

Lower Cape Fear LifeCare celebrates its volunteers during National Volunteer Week

Mary Claire McNaught, pet therapy volunteer, walks the halls at Lower Cape Fear LifeCare’s (LCFL) Hospice House of Brunswick. On any given day, you can find her accompanied by either Izzy, a 13 ½-year-old West Highland White Terrier, or Louie, an 11-year-old mutt. Both are rescue dogs.

Together they brighten the days of patients, family members, visitors, and staff at the Bolivia facility. She claims they do all the real work, “I just provide the ride.”

“Izzy is a cuddler and gives lots of love,” McNaught said. “Louie is always the little showman with his ‘look at me’ attitude. He makes everyone smile just being Louie.”

McNaught said Izzy and Louie help by defusing a tense moment to give family members the chance to look away from the hard parts of life. In return, she gets something beautiful from her interactions.

Claire McNaught and Louie, dressed as The Grinch and Max, visited patients and families at the SECU Hospice House of Brunswick on Christmas Day to spread a little cheer.

“I get a rich opportunity to learn about people,” she said. “What they share during the last days of life is very meaningful. I meet the people that make life wonderful, the guy that enjoys fishing, the retired teacher, the amazing people that make up our community.”

McNaught is one of the many volunteers the local nonprofit will celebrate this week during National Volunteer Week (April 17-23). LCFL was founded by a small group of dedicated volunteers more than 40 years ago. These volunteers understood the need for quality end-of-life care, which includes support for families, just like those who continue the important work today.

Like Deloris and James Hansley, who have been familiar faces at the Dr. Robert M. Fales Hospice Pavilion for almost 10 years. James greets visitors at the front desk and Deloris provides support to patients and their loved ones.

Deloris and James Hansley have been volunteering at Lower Cape Fear LifeCare’s hospice care center in Wilmington for almost ten years, greeting visitors and providing support to patients and their loved ones.

“I love talking to people,” Deloris Hansley said. “I have a gift for working with the sick and elderly. It’s a gift that’s been given to me.”

Pre-pandemic, Deloris was known as “The Hugger.”

“I never left a room without giving everyone a hug,” she said. “Of course, that ended with the pandemic. Now I just do this,” she said while crossing her arms over her chest, “and tell them that I am hugging them in my heart.”

James, a former truck driver who lost a leg during an accident in 2005, says it’s one way he can give back.

“God’s been good to me,” he said. “I could have died in that accident, but I didn’t.”

The tragedy taught him that life is not about worrying about the “petty” stuff. He said he never experienced a day of depression after his accident. It’s an attitude that got him recruited by local doctors to talk with other amputees to help them cope with the loss of a limb.

The couple also provides Thanksgiving Dinner for the facility’s family kitchen each year in honor of their only child, Dontay, who died on Thanksgiving Day 2016. The tradition lets them focus on others that day and not dwell on their loss.

“We’ve done large breakfasts and turkey dinners with all the trimmings,” Deloris Hansley said. “The last two years, because of COVID, we couldn’t bring in the meal due to health and safety regulations. So, we brought in stacks of frozen turkey dinners, so people didn’t have to go without. We understand what they are going through at this time in their lives.”

Larry Cribb also understands the special needs of hospice patients and especially their loved ones. Cribb, a retired educator, has been a volunteer for three years. He greets people at LCFL’s Angel House Hospice Care Center in Whiteville. He also solicits donations for “Meals of Love” which ensures families at the facility have food on site. He and his wife, Patricia, also a LCFL volunteer, make handmade cards for patients and their families.

Volunteer Larry Cribb is eager to help in any way he can to support LCFL’s mission, patients and families in Columbus County.

“It’s fun to use our creativity to make the cards. It also adds a special personal touch,” Cribb said.

The Cribbs also help console and counsel family members. They have a special gift for knowing what is needed. Maybe that’s because they are all too familiar with losing loved ones.

The couple lost their son, Jonathan, when he was only 21 years old. Cribb’s parents died just 10 weeks apart, and he lost five siblings all within six weeks.

“I know how it feels to be depressed, even suicidal because the fiber of your life has been torn apart,” Cribb said. “I guess that’s what helps us know how to help others. People feel comfortable sharing their feelings with us. We try to help ease their pain. If they just need someone to listen – we just listen. If it means crying with them, we cry with them. Whatever they need at that moment is what we try and give.”

All the agency’s volunteers bring their own talents to the table, which allows the nonprofit to provide a wide spectrum of support.

John Shalanski volunteers his musical talents to LCFL playing the guitar at the Wilmington hospice care center and for Tile Tribute Ceremonies. He has also provided holiday music at LCFL’s yearly Cape Fear Festival of Trees.

John Shalanski volunteers his musical talents by providing music two days a week at the Dr. Robert M. Fales Hospice Pavilion in Wilmington.

A retired Veterans Administration social worker, Shalanski wanted to keep active. He was familiar with hospice because the VA hospital he worked at in Pennsylvania had a hospice unit.

At first, he made bereavement calls to check in with family members six months after the death of their loved one. He told one of LCFL’s counselors about his guitar playing and started playing at the care center.

He is now a regular fixture at the care center, playing twice a week for about 3 hours per day. His playlist is comprised of what he personally would like to hear if he was a patient or family member – songs with a message. He also plays requests.

“I get a lot of requests for ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’,” Shalanski said. “I sometimes get requests to go into the patient’s room and play. I really like that.”

When asked why he volunteers in a place that many would consider sad, Shalanski responded. “It’s energizing,” he said. “This is my favorite place to play.”

He knows that being a hospice volunteer isn’t for everyone, but he encourages, “Try it! I think the primary criteria for being a volunteer here is to have compassion and empathy. It has been a great experience for me.”

Lower Cape Fear LifeCare has a variety of volunteer opportunities. Some are directly involved with patients and families, while others work behind the scenes performing administrative duties, helping with fundraising, and contributing in various other ways. The agency encourages people to reach out to see where their talents might fit in the organization.

For more information about becoming a hospice volunteer, call 910-796-7900 or submit a contact form on the nonprofit’s website, lifecare.org.


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