Programs to ease the pain of loss available through Hemet Hospice Volunteers

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Hemet Hospice Volunteers was one of 10 nonprofits who benefited from the ninth annual Soboba Foundation Charity Golf Tournament in May. Foundation representatives were on hand to present them with a check. From left, Catherine “Cat” Modesto, Sally Moreno-Lopez, HHV Executive Assistant Donna Mix, Isaiah Vivanco, HHV Executive Director Paula Natale, Antonia Briones-Venegas, Dondi Silvas, Julie Arrietta-Parcero and Daniel Valdez. Valley News/Carlos Puma Image

Through its many programs, Hemet Hospice Volunteers nonprofit provides resources for hospice patients and those grieving the loss of a loved one. For more than 40 years, the community-based organization has been there to help in many ways.

Its Charitable Care Program is for low-income or uninsured hospice patients being cared for by the group’s nonprofit sister agency, Arbor Hospice. Executive Director Paula Natale said the program allows HHV to provide assistance, free of charge, to enhance the quality of life for hospice patients and families when they need it most, beyond what is covered by traditional health care.

“A social worker or nurse from Arbor Hospice, our sister agency that provides the medical hospice care, identifies the charitable care needs for low-income patients and submits a request for assistance; such as those who need temporary care in a facility, private duty caregivers to assist exhausted family caregivers, groceries or hospice care for the uninsured,” Natale said. “Through our Charitable Care Program, we also grant last wishes to those who are facing the end of their lives.”

Last wishes are granted as requested and there could be as many as one to three per year. Requests for other services, mostly caregiver respite for family caregivers, averages 10 to 15 per month from Arbor Hospice social workers.

Donna Mix, who has been with Hemet Hospice for more than 19 years, serves as its executive assistant/office manager and said she has had family members cared for by Arbor Hospice through the years, who provided “wonderful care.”

She said that while some in-person activities had to be curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many services continued such as volunteers making items for special programs and the agency’s annual craft bazaar fundraiser.

Natale said she feels fortunate to have such wonderful volunteer crafters who make lap blankets, hats, scarfs and slippers for hospice patients. Volunteers also sew Memory Bears, made from favorite clothing items such as a favorite shirt or blouse that belonged to a loved one.

“The Valley Quilters Guild also supports our agency by making special pillowcases for children who have participated in our Youth Bereavement Program following the loss of a loved one,” Natale said.

Mix said that HHV relies on generous support in the form of donations and grants for its free-of-charge programs and services. A recent $10,000 Soboba Foundation grant has been earmarked for the Charitable Care program.

“The staff worked remotely, and we were able to continue to process all Charitable Care requests. We are thankful that we have been able to continue our mission throughout the pandemic,” she said.

A total of 60 volunteers help in various capacities with three serving as ambassadors who do guest speaking engagements, 22 who work on crafts, 15 who dedicate their time to fundraising and special events, 19 that offer office support, three who work on Memory Bears, two who organize the Walk ’n Talk Support Group and 16 who oversee the youth bereavement program.

“Hemet Hospice Volunteers offers bereavement services to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, including several adult bereavement support groups,” Natale said. “We also provide a youth bereavement program in the Hemet and San Jacinto school districts for elementary, middle and high school age children who are coping with the loss of a parent, grandparent, or sibling as a result of a terminal illness, car accident, sudden unexpected illness or violence.”

Longtime volunteer, Gregg Hillis, was involved with the bereavement program from the beginning. In 1981, he became a Hemet Hospice patient care volunteer while working for the Hemet Unified School District as an elementary counselor and later as the Coordinator of Child Welfare and Attendance. Kay Benton, who at the time was Hemet Hospice’s volunteer coordinator, approached Hillis about starting a children’s bereavement group in local schools.

“She was passionate about the need for an opportunity for children to be brought together to learn about the grief process, share their stories and discover they are not alone,” Hillis said. “So often, adults in the family who have lost a loved one receive condolence cards, yet the kids don’t. That program evolved into the present Youth Bereavement Program.”

He began co-leading youth bereavement groups with his wife Annette in 2012, after both retired from San Jacinto Unified School District. He said that through his involvement with Hemet Hospice, he has “received more than he gave and learned more than he passed on.”

“One of the reasons I am committed to the youth bereavement groups is based on Benjamin Franklin’s statement that the only two sure things in life are death and taxes (grief could be added as the third); it is not lost on me that we provide no instruction nor discussion on any of those three topics in the field of education,” Hillis said. “The group allows young people to discover they are not alone, that it is normal to experience grief in its individually unique fashion, and that there can be lessons learned through the death and grief we all must face.”

Cheryl Tausig is another longtime volunteer who works with the bereavement program.

“Having grown up in a minister’s family where giving back was instilled in us at a very early age, I knew that I needed to get into volunteering,” she said. “I ended up volunteering as a Hemet Hospice in-home volunteer for 27 years, three months after moving to Hemet (in 1990).”

Ten years ago, following her retirement as a special education teacher, Tausig felt she needed a change and continued volunteering for Hemet Hospice, but this time with children who were grieving the loss of a loved one.

“Through the Hemet Hospice Youth Bereavement Program, I was able to go into the public schools and facilitate small groups of children, teaching them how to deal with all of the emotions that death brings to the surface,” she said. “About seven years ago, I became the coordinator of this program and I just love it.”

Although there are many talented people already working with the bereavement groups, the agency is always recruiting more. In order to work in the program, volunteers must participate in training, complete a criminal background check and have a tuberculosis test (paid for by Hemet Hospice). While in-person groups stopped, the youth and adult bereavement groups have been held virtually amid COVID-19 restrictions.

The organization moved from its Stetson Avenue location to 1600 E. Florida Ave. in Hemet just as the pandemic began in April 2020. The space is set up and ready for occupancy, but staff is still providing services remotely at this time.

For more information, www.hemethospice.org or (951)766-9629.