Volunteers in Action looks to expand services

Next training event scheduled for Feb. 2

Volunteers in Action, a free service program of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, has one mission: To support people in maintaining independence through compassionate relationships.


Britta Willson

“Our goal is to provide social and practical support, which empowers care receivers to pursue wellness on their own terms,” said Britta Willson, Volunteers in Action program coordinator. “We serve adults with long-term healthcare needs and those with developmental, mental or physical disabilities, most of whom are older adults aged 60 and older.”

Volunteers assist in people’s homes and provide assistance such as transportation to and from appointments, errands like grocery shopping, friendly home visits for companionship, respite for families caring for loved ones, meal preparation and yard work, minor home repairs and light housework. The majority of clients are women.

“It’s a priority of VIA to serve veterans, people living below the Federal Poverty Limit and those who are most isolated and vulnerable,” Willson said.

She said that the program has 76 registered volunteers, but only 20 of those are what she describes as active.

Volunteers in Action Training

Saturday, Feb. 2 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital

RSVP required at 541-387-6404 or Brittany.willson@...

Out of those 20, 13 provide transportation to appointments, with only four of those willing to drive into Portland. She’s actively seeking new volunteers to the program, which serves Hood River and Klickitat counties.

“People don’t really understand the flexibility and freedom there is in doing the volunteer work,” Willson said, “… just how you can do something very small and how big a difference it makes.”

Volunteering is “whatever works with your schedule,” she said — there’s no required time commitment every month. It’s what you can do when you can do it.”

Families are welcome to volunteer together, and office or church groups are also encouraged to sign up.

“If we get a bunch of snow this year, I would like to see more groups participating together … shoveling sidewalks or raking up leaves, the physical, intense things that don’t have to be done on a regular basis,” she explained. “It would be nice to have a group to call when somebody needs something.”

Needs vary, but transportation is a big one, as are volunteers who are bilingual.

“Hood River feels like a tight-knit community, but if you have some kind of mobility limitation or aren’t able to access transportation, you’re stuck in your home. And even if you could walk, if you had a walker or a wheelchair trying to get somewhere not far away, the terrain is hard to navigate.”

Companionship is another big request.

“People are really lonely,” she said, adding that loneliness is the next major epidemic. “It’s an easy request — just to go spend time with someone — but we’re seeing an increase in people wanting companionship, whether that’s going on a walk or playing cards … or someone who will check in with them on a regular basis.”

She just got an influx of volunteers from the White Salmon area and would like to see more from Cascade Locks to expand the program further.

“A lot of older adults live (in Cascade Locks) and they have even less access to services than we do in here in Hood River,” she said.

That lack of services is why volunteers are so important, she said.

“You could be the only person that person sees this week,” Willson said.

“We had a client who was completely homebound, couldn’t get in and out of cars, and she had a volunteer visiting her on a regular basis, to go grocery shopping for her and clean her house … She didn’t have any family and friends in town.”

The woman passed away over the week of Thanksgiving, and her volunteer “took it upon herself to make sure she had a memorial at the funeral home,” Willson said. Anderson’s Tribute Center donated the obituary cost and their large room for a service; Providence provided a chaplain. About 15 people showed up for the service after seeing the woman’s obituary in the newspaper, much to the surprise of her volunteer.

“(The volunteer) thought it would be her, me and (the woman’s) other volunteer there to pay respects to this woman,” Willson said. Having so many people show up for the service “was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It was so sweet … It happened really quickly, and it felt really good. Little things like that happen all the time.”

But it’s not just those receiving the service that benefit from it, she added — older adults have much to teach, as she discovered as a teenager.

Willson, who has a Master’s in gerontology — the study of aging and older adults — knew the first time her mother “made” her volunteer in an Elko, Nev., care center at the age of 13 that it was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

“I’ve benefited from having contact with older adults and I don’t want people to miss out on that experience,” she said. “All the knowledge that I’ve learned — how to garden, how to crochet, how to sew and cook, all these cool things (came from older adults).”

Volunteers must apply and pass a background check prior to placement. Next comes a training component, either one on one with Willson or in a group setting, depending on the volunteer’s schedule. A training binder additionally goes home with the volunteer for later reference.

Training covers such topics as how people change with age, how to communicate with people with dementia and the warning signs of a stroke.

Willson will hold a group training on Saturday, Feb. 2 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital.

Lunch will be provided; and registration is required.

To RSVP or for more information, contact Willson at 541-387-6404 or Brittany.willson@providence.org.

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