For 18-year-old Robert Hixson and 16-year-old Faith Sunga, the path to volunteering in hospice care started with two things: their moms and sorting food.
“Robert and I first met during a Sharp Lends a Hand community service event in 2018 for Feeding San Diego,” says Faith. “Our moms introduced us to one another, as they are good friends and co-workers at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.”
Their mothers continued to encourage the teens’ involvement in community service, which led them to volunteer for Sharp HospiceCare a year later.
“I believe that volunteering grounds kids,” says Linda Sunga, a registered nurse navigator for Advanced Illness Management, and Faith’s mother. “In this instance, it makes them realize that there are people whose lives have been turned upside down by disease and death.”
Both Robert and Faith volunteer at BonitaView Home, one of three hospice homes in San Diego County operated by Sharp HospiceCare. As with all of Sharp HospiceCare’s homes, BonitaView — located in the South Bay — provides 24-hour care in a tranquil, home-like environment.
“All of our teen volunteers work in our hospice homes so that they have support available 24/7,” says Denise Kelly, program coordinator of volunteer services for Sharp HospiceCare. “For the patients, the teens represent our next generation, and they may remind the patients of their own grandchildren, and how life goes on.”
Faith, who volunteers on the weekends, credits the staff for making her volunteer experience special.
“Each Sunday is made significant because of the staff; every person is so caring, kind and appreciative. For this reason, I feel as though I am in a place where I belong, a place in which I have a purpose.”
Faith and Robert both have aspirations of working in the medical field, and volunteering provides firsthand exposure to not only the industry, but also life in general.
“Robert has grown up with me being a hospice nurse so it’s all he really knows — death and dying,” says Jamie Hixson, hospice liaison for Advanced Illness Management, and Robert’s mother. “This way, instead of ‘mom just talking,’ he can see for himself and be more aware of how important that part of life is.”
Robert has been a hospice volunteer for a few months. But even in a short span of time, he is focused on making a positive impact in the lives of others, even in the simple, everyday moments.
“There was one day when the nurses were busy, and I was able to step in and help a patient,” says Robert. “He was very weak, and I was able to help him eat. It felt nice to be able to help him.”
Teen volunteers typically provide companionship and comfort to patients by sitting with them and holding their hand, reading a book or sitting quietly beside them so the patient is not alone.
“They support our staff and provide the warmth and caring a family member would like their loved one to receive,” says Denise.
Sharp HospiceCare has approximately 140 adult and teen volunteers combined, each person having their own special reasons for serving.
“I volunteer for hospice because I want to improve and make easier in any way possible one’s journey from life to afterlife,” says Faith. “Letting a loved one go will always be a difficult task at hand, but if there is any way that I can provide comfort either directly or indirectly to those in need, then I want to be there to help.”
Visit our hospice volunteering page if you're interested in becoming a volunteer.