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Locals volunteer time for hospice and respite care

Several local community members volunteer with Allina Health's Hospice and Palliative Care. Pictured are, back row from left, volunteer coordinator Judy Plucker, Prill Snelling, Connie Polly and Marty McNunn. In the front row are Nichole Janssen and John Anderson. Michelle Wirth/RiverTown Multimedia

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month. Community members in Hastings volunteer with several organizations. The Star Gazette took some time to talk to local volunteers with Allina Health Hospice and Palliative Care.

Judy Plucker, volunteer coordinator with Allina Health Hospice and Palliative Care, said they currently have 350 volunteers and about 640 patients.

"The family is always grateful when they can get respite," Plucker said.

Volunteers may run some errands, fix a meal, get groceries or do some light housework. Plucker said that they receive different requests from families but the most common is to get someone who will be patient, read to their loved one or just provide a calm presence.

John Anderson began volunteering through Allina about two years ago. He had two parents involved with hospice during their deaths and when he reached the point of retirement, he wanted to find something that would be meaningful and make a difference to someone else. The experience has been what he hoped it would be, he said.

"It's an opportunity to be with people and talk in a way that doesn't usually happen in life because people are more open sometimes to talking about dying and about living and about seeing life in those last moments," Anderson said.

Nichole Janssen has been volunteering on and off since 2010. She is currently seeing patients who have caregivers that are exhausted and need help and support. She said that when providing respite care, she can see how much it is needed for the families and the patient.

One of the most amazing things Janssen said that she experiences through volunteering is the conversations with the patient.

"It's just amazing...the things that they will share and then you talk to the family and they say 'I've never heard that about my parent' or 'we never knew that she use to love to dance' and just all the cool stories that you hear and can share with the families is amazing," Janssen said.

Prill Snelling and Marty McNunn said that the time they have spent volunteering has been rewarding for them. Snelling has been volunteering since 2012 and began volunteering after retiring from 40 years of work as a nurse. She said that she feels like she is helping people and it is interesting to find out about different people's lives and to hear how they lived and what they did. McNunn said she was also looking for something meaningful to do after retiring and she looks forward to talking to patients.

"I've enjoyed it very much with being able to help somebody," McNunn said.

Connie Polly is also a volunteer with Allina, but said her role is a little different. She does pet therapy with her rescue dog named Lacey. Lacey is 7 years old and works with Polly to give patients comfort.

"I get to hear about all (the patients) pets that they've had and just different things that bring them joy...and that's what my dog Lacey does is she brings them comfort in a furry form," Polly said.

Plucker said that when a new patient arrives, she will call and ask the family if they would like a volunteer to help them out. Sometimes they say 'yes' and other times they say 'no.'

"I love it when the family will be kind of reluctant and they'll say 'well, I'm really not sure that (the patient) will enjoy a visitor,' and then within two or three visits these guys have connected and they are having wonderful visits and the family will call me and thank me," Plucker said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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