The seasonal chills encourage us to huddle close to those we care about. As November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, it’s also about the gift of today.
“The focus is … looking at each day as an individual gift and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that day the best day possible,” said Katherine Knoble Capital Caring Health (CCH) director of Volunteer and Community Engagement.
CCH is a regional hospice agency that serves thousands of patients every day and has been going strong since 1977. They are also one of the few hospice agencies in the U.S. with a devoted pediatric team.
From the moment a child is diagnosed, CCH is there to support families. They offer palliative and hospice care for kids with advanced illnesses. “Hospice doesn’t just take care of the patient… Hospice is about the whole family,” Knoble said.
“This would not happen without volunteers,” she said. “These are people that are not getting paid and they’re doing some heavy, emotional work and they’re doing it from the heart.”
One of those is Pediatric Volunteer Committee (PVC) Chair Joanne Canellos. After losing her father to cancer while she was in college and caring for family members over the years, Canellos always wanted to get into hospice volunteering.
The PVC organizes celebratory initiatives for terminally ill kids. They show up decked out with locally donated cake and gifts for the whole family on birthdays, holidays, and milestones. At the end of the year, they assemble the Elf Squad.
A year ago, Knoble’s team conceived the Elf Squad–a culmination effort of the winter gift-giving season. The Elf Squad spends December collecting and wrapping gifts for patients and their families, then delivers them with help from My Guys Moving.
When the holidays ended last year, they wanted to continue the initiatives and Elf Squad. Knoble asked Canellos, who had volunteered with CCH for a few years, to chair the effort–and so the PVC was born.
As CCH increased their pediatric patients, the PVC took off with chances to deliver themed gifts throughout this year. They activated the Elf Squad early this season to accommodate a patient whose family was visiting before the holidays to see their child one last time.
“To see them and how thankful they were when they were having family coming into town to say goodbye to their child [is] one of those moments where, for a split second, you think, ‘how am I doing this?’ After that, you’re like, ‘how can I do more?’” Canellos said.
“Hospice is a very scary word… If you took that word out and just looked at … what volunteers are going out and doing, [patients] are happy in that moment,” Knoble said. “We can’t change the prognosis, but we can change that moment and we do.”
Canellos is hosting her second annual Baklava Bonanza fundraiser that runs until New Year’s. She raised $3,200 last year and hopes to raise $5,000 this year, with all proceeds going towards initiatives for CCH’s pediatric patients. She has raised $____ so far.
Canellos heard about CCH through people she knew who used it. Knoble joined CCH about six years ago from a career in the field. No matter where they came from, “It’s a tight network and you learn to lean on each other because you are dealing with loss and families in different situations,” Canellos said.
“We will all experience a loss of some type at some point in our lives,” Canellos said. “You can be supported through it.” The CCH team hopes more people know they can use their services as more than a last resort. “It tends to be an underutilized [medical insurance] benefit but it’s there,” Knoble said.
“We see all these people from all walks of life, religious faiths, cultures, but what they have in common at the end is that they want that human connection,” Knoble said. “We all really need each other.”