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Hart Comfort House In Need of Volunteers

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Find out how you can help Wellsville’s “Comfort House”

Mary Gardner-Ruch

On January 18th, the Hart Comfort House marked eleven years of serving area residents with end-of-life care.  On January 8th, 2012, the first resident came to the door and rang the bell. The following week, he began receiving care.  The Hart Comfort House offers free comfort care for those in their last three months of a terminal illness.  Comfort care honors the well-being of every person and respects the dignity of human life.

The staff and volunteers at the Hart House are able to care for two residents at a time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They operate with 56 volunteers a week taking 4-hour shifts 7 days a week. A paid professional cares for residents from midnight to 8 am, as it is difficult to fill those hours. Ideally, having 85 volunteers works best so that they have backup when people are not able to work their shifts.  Scott Swift, Executive Director, explained that because he was a Registered Nurse, hiring him killed two birds with one stone.  He runs the house as Director but is also able to fill the needs of an RN. In addition to Scott, Joanne White coordinates the volunteers.  The house is able to operate due to an army of trained volunteers.  All volunteers receive the same training regardless of the tasks that they perform. There are volunteer opportunities for everyone.  Some provide hands-on care, while others provide cleaning, cooking, friendly visiting, music, reading, companionship, playing games, and provide family support.  Students throughout Allegany County who excel in their studies and plan to go on to a Medical Career are part of a program that allows them to come and spend time with residents at the Hart House.  One young man played piano and entertained the residents in that way. Scott works with the Judicial system with individuals who have to do community service. They volunteer to do gardening and yard work on the property. 

A sweet dog named Joe accompanies Scott to work and has been an additional source of comfort to residents and their families.  Many families choose to park in the back of the house and go directly through the door that leads to their family member’s bedroom.  They can bring pets to visit.  This is wonderful for the resident who has had to leave a  beloved pet behind.  

I met 92-year-old Alan Littell who comes on a regular basis from Alfred to visit with residents.  His friendly smile and cheerful manner brighten their day.  The house is always staffed with 2 volunteers at a time. They work 4-hour shifts.  Diane Vossler and Marlee Cannon were providing care to residents when I visited. They both seemed to love their time at the Hart House. Volunteers come from all over the county to help out and residents are accepted throughout Allegany County.   

According to Scott, “Most volunteers do one shift a week but some do 3 a week.”   There is a 4 hour minimum requirement each month to stay active as a volunteer. He also shared that this time of year, they are operating with less volunteers because so many of them are snowbirds.  Covid had a negative effect on Hart House.  There were times when they had to close their doors. They lost 15 to 20 volunteers when the Medical Staff recommended that volunteers be vaccinated.  Also, when a person has been exposed to Covid or has the virus, they are not able to volunteer until their quarantine is finished.

The Hart House is not sponsored by anyone.  The house runs on donations.  There are two big fundraisers every year. The Basket Raffle brings in $6000 to $7000 annually, and the Richburg Rod and Gun Club hosts a chicken BBQ that generates $4000 to $6000 each year.  There is an annual appeal every November and many donations come in from that. Scott, relayed a heartwarming story about Leah Waters, a little girl who started her life in the NICU.  Her little brother, Carson, was also in the NICU. The family was touched by the generosity they received from the Kevin Guest House and wanted to help locally. Leah who is now 7 years old has been having a birthday party each year since she turned 4, where instead of gifts, the guests bring donations for the Hart House. Leah is so proud when she comes in with loads of paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and needed items.  Carson is following in her footsteps and does the same thing for his birthdays. Several families are doing this now at birthday time.  Other organizations that donate regularly are the The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Lions, the Elks, and the Legion.  One man collected cans from work and donated the money to the Hart House. Whitesville had a Pennys War and the school kids raised $700 to donate. 

Joanne White, stated that she is holding a training on the 24th with three new volunteers.  Scott and Joanne used to hold a large training and now if they have a few interested individuals, they train them right at the house. They show a video on End of Life Care and provide hands-on training working with the residents.  Joanne mentioned that some of their residents have lived longer than the 3 months as it is just a guess at how long a person has. They had some that graduated and went home. She mentioned that it is sad when a person comes and is only there for a day or two before passing. It does not give the volunteers a chance to bond with them, and the resident does not get to experience the love and caring provided by this special place.

I felt like i had spent time with family during the interview. I was comfortable and they were comfortable.  The house is truly a home. If you feel like you have extra time to donate by providing care, making a meal, playing a game, cleaning, gardening, playing music, or just watching TV with someone so they are not alone,  contact Joanne White at 585-596-1045 or by email at [email protected].  

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