Many McClure Miller Respite House staff members skip breakfast on Thursdays because they know Mimi Hindes will bake something delicious. A House favorite are the raspberry bars, nicknamed “Bob-Bars” after a beloved resident with whom Mimi developed a friendship.
Mimi is one of over 400 volunteers who give their time and their hearts to the Respite House. She knew the House well long before she entered her 11-week volunteer training, as both of her parents died there. “When we walked through those doors it was like, ‘Oh, thank goodness. Someone who knows what they’re doing is going to take over,’” Mimi recalls of entering the Respite House as her mother was dying. “As a family, we could start the grieving process without having to worry if mom was in pain. The staff was wonderful.”
‘You focus on each person’
Every Thursday, Mimi arrives at the Respite House to volunteer with her husband, Church. Church is also no stranger to the House – he served as president of UVM Health Network – Home Health & Hospice (then known as the Visiting Nurse Association) for 13 years from 1999 to 2012. As Church and Mimi sought opportunities to give back in retirement, the Respite House was a natural choice for both. As they see it, they get as much out of the experience as they give: “With anything you love, you’re quietly doing it for yourself as much as you’re doing it for others; it’s good for your soul,” says Church.
Despite both Church and Mimi’s long history with the Respite House, they needed time to adjust to their new roles as volunteers. Church worried about Mimi’s experience coming back as a volunteer soon after her mother passed. But after her mom’s death she was ready to give back. The most important part of her role is to connect with each person she encounters. “You see the individual,” she comments. “You focus on each person rather than their circumstances. It’s like, oh, here we are today, in this moment and how may I help you?”
In the small moments
Volunteers are essential to the work of the Respite House, providing vital services every day. Volunteers cook, help with personal care and greet and orient families, among many other responsibilities. It’s challenging work, as volunteers interact with residents facing their final days and families facing the loss of a loved one. It’s also deeply meaningful work. Many Respite House volunteers have served for decades. Church views the staff and volunteers as the “special dust” sprinkled about that make the Respite House such a sacred place: “It’s always about the people who are there – a remarkable constellation of social workers and LNAs and nurses and chaplains and volunteers. The clinical teams are absolutely top drawer, truly skilled and deeply caring.”
Many days, it’s the smallest of actions that can have an enormous impact – both for Respite House residents and for volunteers like Church and Mimi. It’s a conversation about the weather while returning tidied flowers to a resident’s room. It’s catching a few moments of the Red Sox game with a resident. It’s offering a cup of tea or a “Bob-Bar” to a family member facing one of the most painful experiences of their life.
As Church says, “We are drawn to acknowledge and honor the residents at the house. You deserve the best bath of your life today. You deserve a warm and comforting final meal.” Thank you, Mimi and Church, for remaining part of the remarkable constellation that is the Respite House.