Balancing the burden

LIHUE — A collection of handmade, quilted pillows dot Mary Ann Nordwall’s home. Each one is a unique reminder of time she’s spent volunteering with Share The Care.

That’s because one of her missions was to sit with an avid quilter in order to give her caregiver a break. The woman taught Nordwall the art of Hawaiian quilting.

“I’m a crafter by nature, so I would go and sit with her and it was a great experience,” Nordwall said. “I have many, many quilted pillows that I’ve done while sitting with her.”

Nordwall is one of 51 volunteers currently donating various amounts of time to help out the community. The organization began with 54 health professionals in 2011, when one of the founders of the national Share The Care program brought the idea to the island through Kauai Hospice.

The organization secured a grant from of $5,000 from the Annie Sinclair Knudsen Memorial Fund, and launched the initiative in partnership with the American Cancer Society and Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Network.

“It empowers people to take control of their caregiving needs, and reduces dependency on insurance and government programs,” said Lori Miller, executive director of Kauai Hospice. “STC recipients, families and caregivers alike experience solace, support and even joy in the midst of difficult, and sometimes tragic, life circumstances.”

Coordinator Deborah Duda said that while the program is run through Kauai Hospice, STC volunteers aren’t limited to hospice activities. In fact, only about a quarter of those the STC volunteers encounter are in hospice.

Mainly, she said, volunteering with STC means working on the to-do list for caregivers, or keeping a patient company while the caregivers get some time to themselves.

“That means the patient has a more relaxed, patient and less irritable caregiver,” Duda said.

Nordwall said she started volunteering with STC when the program began on the island.

“It sounded like such a good thing because there are a lot of people on the island who need help,” Nordwall said.

Nordwall had cared for both of her parents, and she “understands the burnout and getting really tired.”

“The surprising thing (about volunteering with STC), is you build such a bond with these people because of where they are emotionally,” Nordwall said. “Often the people you meet are involved with caring for someone on their way out, and when that person passes, you’re still friends with the caregiver. It’s a strong bond.”

Thatcher McGoun, a retired Kauai surgeon who has been volunteering with STC for a little more than a year, said the people are definitely the strongest draw for joining the program.

“You meet a variety of people with a variety of problems and each of them is an individual,” McGoun said. “You find enjoyment in all of them.”

One of his favorite memories was working with a woman who had lived on Kauai for 20 years, but had never seen Waimea Canyon.

“So I took her up to the canyon and she died about a week later,” McGoun said. “But she loved it.”

Providing company and outings are just two of STC’s lengthy list of volunteer opportunities. Other jobs include housework like laundry, cooking, dusting or feeding pets; yard work and home improvement projects; and running errands.

Duda said she advises volunteers to “do what you like and to do it for the time you want to do it.”

“Our volunteers really enjoy what they do — everything from walking dogs to bringing over meals a couple times a week,” Duda said. “We’re welcoming volunteers to do a wide variety of things for people with many different needs.”

STC volunteers are not professional caregivers, like Certified Nursing Aides, and don’t do their work, Duda said. And while a few of the STC volunteers also give some time to Kauai Hospice, not everyone does.

“One of the good things about volunteering with STC is that you can be as involved as you want to be,” Nordwall said. “And you get to see if it’s a good fit with the family before you fully commit.”

New volunteers go through a background check to ensure the safety of the families they work with. Duda said she also looks for volunteers with compassion and “good common sense.”

Info: Deborah Duda, (808) 332-7668.

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