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By the Bay Health

Writing the Coronavirus Wave

Creativity connects Sonoma/Napa HBTB volunteers with patients

Hospice by the Bay (HBTB) has a mighty backbone of more than 400 dedicated volunteers who provide enduring support to our staff, as well as to hospice patients and their families.  Tireless and passionate, HBTB’s volunteers contribute year-round to administrative and retail projects, and on a weekly basis visit hospice patients to share companionship and personal interest activities such as playing music and singing, puzzles and games, energy work, and art projects.  Volunteers also create handmade teddy bears to comfort the siblings of pediatric hospice patients, and sew comfy quilts and blankets for our patients in nursing homes.

So what’s a volunteer to do when a viral pandemic hits and only essential employees are allowed to visit patients or work in the office?

“We write notecards, spread kindness, and keep on sewing!” says Melissa Hansen, Volunteer Coordinator for HBTB in Sonoma/Napa.  “Our volunteers constantly ask for more to do.  They are truly committed to giving back to their communities.  Whatever is needed, they want to help.”

With volunteers unable to visit patients during the shelter-in-place, and many families lacking the technology to visit by computer, Melissa came up with the idea of sending handwritten notecards to every patient in HBTB’s Sonoma/Napa service region.  “Writing cards is a perfect way for volunteers to stay active and maintain their connections with patients.  We want our patients to know we’re still here, we miss them, and we’re thinking of them until we can visit again.”

More than a dozen volunteers and their artistic friends have joined in the greeting card program so far.  They write inspirational notes inside of donated blank cards, and some even create their own unique card designs.  Due to patient confidentiality, the volunteers don’t know exactly who they’re writing to, so they think of messages that are uplifting for anyone who might receive them.

Carol Finch of Napa and her grandson, Easton Hardy, joined forces to create upwards of 40 handmade notecards.  Eight-year-old Easton, a second-grader in Napa, varied his designs with images like “trucks for cards that might go to a guy.”

Carol is a long-time HBTB volunteer but Easton is a newcomer.  “Easton and I were watching TV one day and saw that patients couldn’t have family visitors due to the virus.  He said, ‘That’s so sad and lonely for them.  What can we do to bring them some happiness?’  I suggested we make our own cards to send to patients and Easton said, ‘I’m in, 100%, Nana.’  Easton colored our cards and wrote a short note in each one to let patients know we’re thinking of them.  While writing his notes he asked, ‘can I say ‘you are loved?’”  I’m very proud of Easton for being so caring and compassionate towards others.”

Easton enjoys creating the cards because, “I like making people happy, and I like art.”

Laurie Jones RN, a Hospice Nurse for HBTB, agrees that Easton’s cards definitely make people happy. “I received a call from the son of one of my patients, who thanked me for the greeting card sent to his mom.  She is a former schoolteacher and was ‘absolutely thrilled’ to have a card from a young student.  It made her son so happy to see his mom light up as she did.”

As of early May, more than 130 HBTB patients in Sonoma and Napa have received personal cards from the region’s volunteers.  “The cards are so well-received by our patients,” says Melissa, “we’re going to continue sending greetings for as long as we have volunteers willing to create and write them.”