This is part six of our 40th Anniversary Reflections series celebrating our 40 years of life-changing care through Suncoast Hospice and Empath Health. Our longtime volunteer services director of more than two decades is set to retire. Here, she looks back at her beloved work building a comprehensive volunteer program and the everyday impact volunteers make supporting our care in the community.
Q&A: Kathy Roble, Empath Health Director of Volunteer Services
1. What’s your background?
I was a stay-at-home mom, went back to school and earned my master’s in health services management. While I was doing that, I volunteered at Suncoast Hospice in the education department. There was an opening for a non-clinical volunteer manager and they hired me for that position in 1994. At that time, we also had a clinical volunteer manager and about 750 volunteers.
2. What attracted you here?
A friend who worked for our hospice encouraged me to volunteer. I had no previous hospice experiences but I did have a lot of deaths in my family. I lost my mother when I was young – she was 36 – and my dad died at 58. I felt that I understood the work being done here. I had always been in volunteerism. I had run just about everything to do with volunteers at my children’s schools.
3. What was your Suncoast Hospice volunteer experience like?
My experience was great. I came in a certain time of week and did a lot of administrative work. I worked on a computer, typed up training materials and logged in information for staff. It was a fun place to work. They were just great people and I feel our staff still is today. It’s what makes volunteers want to keep going and work for an organization like this.
4. What was your work like then versus now?
It was a new, unstructured position. I spent a lot of time learning the computer system, familiarizing myself with the structure and helping organize volunteers in special events and the office. In about a year or two I became manager of the entire program.
5. What was your vision for the volunteer program?
My vision was to involve as many people in our community as volunteers. Today, we continue to bring in people to learn about Empath Health, and even if someone doesn’t become a volunteer, we’ve made a new friend.
I feel one of our greatest achievements was expanding our volunteer roles. When I began, the roles basically were all patient or office-focused. Later, our many other programs were born. Probably our biggest achievement is the teen program, which has achieved nationwide recognition.
6. What’s the volunteer orientation and training like?
It’s two parts – the four-hour volunteer orientation is all about Empath Health services and volunteer opportunities and the 12-hour patient and family support training is offered to those who wish to work with our Suncoast Hospice patients and their families or Suncoast PACE participants. We also have additional training available for specialized roles, such as our bereavement support and resale shoppes.
7. How has the volunteer program changed and grown?
Our organization’s commitment has allowed us to grow. We have about 2,500 volunteers right now. Our numbers change; there are seasonal people who might not come back or people who are aging, going back to work or other circumstances.
8. What are the greatest volunteer needs?
Our greatest needs are volunteers to support our patients and families. That will always be our greatest need. It’s the type of work that takes a very special person. These volunteers are incredible.
9. How do volunteers serve and make a difference?
Volunteers are the heart and foundation of our organization in a big way. They provide services that add value to the work we do. They can fill the gaps between staff visits and we couldn’t run our offices without them – they greet guests, scan paperwork, work on computers, assist with special events, serve fellow veterans and much more.
10. What are our greatest strengths as an organization?
Our greatest strength is our passion to serve the community in the ways it needs us. We have been able to grow and be respected because of our commitment of staff, volunteers and leadership to do what’s right and do the best we can. We have a culture that cares about people. That’s shown by our longevity; we have staff and volunteers who’ve been here for 30 years or more.
11. What has kept you here so long?
Like many staff and volunteers here, I love my job. I like and embrace change. I’ve had an ability to grow in my position – to see needs, design new programs and make a difference.
12. What are some of your favorite memories?
Spending time getting to know our volunteers better and being part of events that honor them. And representing our organization at the national level.
13. What lessons have you learned?
This organization, especially the hospice program, really teaches you. Some of my greatest lessons have been taught to me by volunteer stories. I’ve learned that patience is required. I’ve learned to be a better person by listening to others.
14. What are your next plans in life?
Retirement and exploring what my next chapter will be. My children live in Denver and Charlotte so I plan to visit them a little more. I love to garden and read. I’d like to learn to relax a little more.
15. Do you have any other parting words?
I’d like to thank the organization for providing me with this wonderful life experience, thank the volunteer coordinators for the work they do to sustain the volunteer program, as well as thank the wonderful volunteers who give so much of themselves to us.
Have a special memory about volunteering with us or the support of our volunteers?
Please share it here.
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