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Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - Volunteer Finds Lasting Joy in Her Work at Methodist’s Hospitality Houses
  Vilma DeClue, center, a volunteer at Methodist’s Hospitality Houses, helps guests feel at home when they must travel for medical care, whether it’s making a pot of coffee or offering a listening ear. 
Giving to others is a wonderful way to leave an impression on this world. By giving I don’t mean hastily writing out a check for a worthy cause or donating that sofa that your husband swears you got from a doctor’s office waiting room because there’s so little padding.  To truly experience the joy of giving, give of your time, of yourself.  

The Hospitality Houses of Methodist Medical Center have brought that joy to Vilma DeClue’s life since she began volunteering there in 1999. 

“I tell my husband and all of my friends that this is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my entire life,” says DeClue. “It gives me joy… joy stays inside you.”

The Hospitality Houses at Methodist Medical Center provide temporary lodging to patients and families who must travel far from home to receive treatment at Methodist. The Houses primarily serve cancer patients, but other outpatients and families of patients are accepted as space allows. The Hospitality Houses become a source of strength for these patients and families during some of the worst times of their lives.  As they face a medical crisis, the houses and the staff who maintain them provide comfort, peace, a place to rest, a sympathetic listener.

Volunteers play a key role in making Methodist’s two Hospitality Houses the special places that they are.

“We do a lot of everything,” says DeClue. “It’s a house, so you see to all the little details- keeping things clean.”

But she notes that a volunteer’s job is much more than keeping the house looking nice. “One of the most beautiful things we do is to talk to the patients and families, just to listen to them.”

Sometimes, when someone is scared or hurting, that’s the best thing you can do for them- just be a good listener.

“The biggest quality we look for in a volunteer is a big heart,” says Debbie Scarbrough, coordinator of the Hospitality Houses. “There is something for everyone to do here. Men and women of any age and any ability are welcome.”

House duties are truly adaptable to anyone. From changing light bulbs and carrying guests’ suitcases, to cleaning out the refrigerator, vacuuming the floors or simply addressing envelopes and writing notes, the needs at the houses are varied. 

“You can say it’s some housekeeping,” notes Scarbrough, “but it’s also so much more than that. It’s to make these houses a home for a patient, to make them feel comfortable at a very bad time in their lives.”

That is what the volunteers are doing when they come to the Hospitality Houses. Even when they are cleaning, answering phones or receiving food donated by the community, they are making a guest feel at home when they are far from their own home and dealing with a health crisis.  The volunteers make them comfortable, but they also help them find a bit of normalcy during a time when their lives are turned upside down.

“It’s the smiles of the people,” says DeClue of what keeps her volunteering. “They smile because they feel welcome; they feel loved, because they feel that there is someone there during that very difficult time.”

And, DeClue adds, it is not just the hospital that makes these Hospitality Houses possible, it’s the whole community.  Churches and community organizations bring food and supplies for the houses. Quilters make lap quilts for each cancer patient. Youth groups rake leaves in the fall; companies donate materials to build a new sidewalk; individuals donate accessories to make a suite feel more homey.

“This is a community effort, and it tells a lot about the community,” says DeClue.

Volunteers are needed to work a variety of days and hours, and schedules are flexible. “Even if someone can only volunteer an hour or two each month, we can incorporate that into the schedule,” says Scarbrough.  Regular volunteers work shifts at the Hospitality Houses Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers are also needed on an “on-call” basis. On-call volunteers simply need to be available to check-in guests after hours and on weekends. They are on-call from 5 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. on weeknights and 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. on weekends, typically for just one week a month. Substitute volunteers are also important to the houses. They receive the same training as a volunteer so that they are comfortable at the houses, but they are called on an as-needed basis to fill in for a regular volunteer who will be out.

Volunteering at the Hospitality Houses gives people an opportunity to make a huge impact in someone’s life by simply doing what they do in their own home every day.  

DeClue comments that she enjoys folding the towels and sheets and putting them in the linen closet. She also finds satisfaction in deep cleaning the stoves and the kitchen sinks.

“Everything is important,” she says, “even if it’s just taking out the trash.”

“I am amazed at the strength and kindness of everyone who volunteers,” remarks Scarbrough. “The guests who are outpatients and the guests who have loved ones that are facing a critical time in their lives have all felt that extraordinary care that the volunteers provide by just being here for them and taking the time to visit, listen with compassion to their problems, and making these houses feel like a place of refuge.”

DeClue notes the commitment of the volunteers at the Hospitality Houses who faithfully maintain and support the houses and their guests. “This is not a job. It’s a way of being there for people in need.”

Right now, it’s not just the guests who are in need. The Hospitality Houses are also in need; they need volunteers who are willing to use their big hearts to bring comfort and hope to people who are facing what may be the biggest challenge of their lives.

It’s your opportunity to give back and to receive a deep feeling of purpose in return.

After more than a decade of giving her time to the houses, DeClue can speak honestly when she says, “If you are searching for true, lasting joy, come to the Hospitality Houses and volunteer.”

To learn more about becoming a Hospitality House volunteer, call (865) 835-4358.