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‘It’s a privilege.’ That is what volunteers say when given the opportunity to help make hospice patients develop their life story.

Volunteers at Cranford Hospice in Hawke’s Bay are making such a positive difference in the lives of patients with life limiting conditions. Amanda Aitken, Volunteer Coordinator at the Hospice shares, ‘volunteers spend about 6 weeks doing weekly recordings with the patient they are matched with. The patients can talk about anything that is important to them such as family, friends, jobs and travel. Then the recordings are typed up, collated with photos and printed into a hardcover book.’

Aitken says the purpose is more than about having a book at the end. ‘The purpose of this process is to allow patients to reflect on their lives, to look back and remember the significant times, the happy times, and people they’ve been close to over the years.’

‘That’s just one of the special things that our volunteers do for our patients,’ she adds.

Inside page of hospice patient’s autobiography book

Cranford Hospice has nearly 400 volunteers contributing 40,000 hours of work a year. Aitken manages 130 of them who are working within the hospice to help staff look after patients, work in the kitchen and laundry, and keep the garden looking stunning all year round.

To recognise the importance of her role, the hospice has supported her via on-the-job training to complete a New Zealand Certificate in Business – First Line Management qualification with the help of Volunteering NZ and industry training organisation, Careerforce.

As part of the qualification requirement, Aitken had to lead a team to complete a task or project. Along with 4 volunteers, Aitken led the development of the training programme for new volunteer Life Reviewers. She says that to recruit and retain volunteers, finding the right fit, orientation and training, allowing for flexibility, and setting the right expectations are key. ‘We try to give volunteers roles that they will find a sense of fulfilment and enjoyment from,’ she adds. ‘we want volunteers to know they are appreciated and the work they do really does help the patients and their families as well as staff.’

‘These are people who can spend their time doing anything, but they choose to spend a significant amount of that with us. We have one volunteer who has celebrated 32 years volunteering with the hospice. You have to be a pretty special person to be volunteering, and even more special to be volunteering in a hospice.’

Volunteers contribute more than 157 million unpaid hours of work in New Zealand annually. As we celebrate International Volunteer Day (IVD) 2018 on 5 Dec, let’s recognise the importance of volunteers, volunteer organisations, and volunteer managers who do so much to support our communities at a time where workforce shortages are so prevalent, especially across the health, social and community sectors.