Aaron Zebolsky poses for a photo and smiles.
Aaron Zebolsky is a volunteer for Spectrum Health Hospice. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Aaron Zebolsky has grown to cherish his time as a volunteer for Spectrum Health Hospice.

Each week he stays for an hour, visiting a hospice patient he developed a bond with during the past few months. She is the third person Zebolsky, 20, has met as a result of his volunteer work with hospice. He visits the patients where they live and has traveled to Spectrum Health Reed City and Nursing Center, Metron of Big Rapids and a residential home.

The Ferris State University pre-med student stepped into the world of hospice in July 2014. Initially, volunteering seemed like a good way to start his journey into the medical field. More than a year later, it’s become much more.

By listening to patients’ stories—hearing about their lives, their families—Zebolsky gained a new understanding and appreciation for their diverse experiences and personalities.

In his weekly visits with a patient at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital, for instance, Zebolsky listens to her stories about childhood and her career as a nurse. They spend time reading together, too. One thing is readily apparent: She enjoys Zebolsky’s visits.

“At that point in life, it seems almost trivial that some stranger—not to mention many generations younger—comes in to chat weekly,” Zebolsky observed. “It feels awesome knowing that a couple of the patients I have met with have talked about how much they enjoy me visiting.”

Meanwhile, he’s gaining valuable professional skills.

“Personally, I think hospice has given me better communication skills when interacting with people from various backgrounds,” he said. “I believe this will help me excel in a medical career by improving my abilities to understand and sympathize with patients.”

Whether they visit patients at home or in care facilities, hospice volunteers such as Zebolsky meet a variety of important needs.

They can lend their musical talents to brighten a patient’s day. They can offer a caring touch through hand or arm massages, using the compassionate connection technique. Some help patients write down their life stories, or they use pictures to create a book for the patient and their family.

Ultimately, it gives patients a chance to chat and connect with someone other than family.

“It gives them someone to share time with, someone to listen to them,” said Sue Milanowski, volunteer coordinator with Spectrum Health Hospice.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, as well as meeting a number of other important requirements. Beyond that, they’re from all different backgrounds including working professionals, retirees and students from Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University or other colleges, often majoring in social work, medicine or nursing.

Quite often, volunteers are seeking one-on-one experience with patients.

There is one trait in particular that volunteer should always bring to the table: “A desire to bring joy to someone’s life during a difficult time,” Milanowski said.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, contact Spectrum Health Hospice at 616.391.4240 or email hospice.volunteers@spectrumhealth.org.