Lindsey Schroeder joined Tidewell Hospice as a volunteer coordinator working out of Sarasota in February 2020. She didn’t know it then, but everything she knew about her new job was about to change. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most volunteer activities beginning in mid-March 2020. Since then, Lindsey has been connecting with volunteers and riding what she calls a “roller coaster” of volunteer activity, personal protective equipment (PPE) guideline updates and big projects. Lindsey has been instrumental in a facilitating a flower donation campaign from the Oaks Women’s Club and recruiting volunteers for the new Tidewell Treasures Resale Shop set to open soon in Sarasota’s Palmer Crossing. Lindsey sat down recently to answer a few questions about her job.
Q: What is your background, and how did you get involved in volunteer coordination?
A: Before Tidewell Hospice, I worked for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. My title there was Mentor Manager. I managed the mentors, or the Bigs, who were volunteers. A lot of that was recruiting and training them. They go out and volunteer with their littles, ages 6-18. So I kept them engaged and there was ongoing enrichment and training. I also kept in touch with the families, so there were some parallels there with Tidewell. Totally different ages, but some similarities.
Q: You started at Tidewell in February 2020, right before the pandemic started. What was that like? What were some of the challenges you faced?
A: I did Tidewell orientation the last week of February. So I really had that week and the first two weeks of March to sort of feel out what my job might look like. Then everything changed with regard to what this job would look like. The first thing that took place was identifying that we needed to pull volunteers from doing visits. So while my brain was thinking, “OK, I’m going to learn how to match volunteers up with patient needs and send them out,” the first thing that happened was we have all of these assignments and we need to discontinue them for everyone’s safety. A lot of phone calls went into doing that. While that was challenging and opposite of what I expected to do, the silver lining is I got to immediately make phone calls to volunteers to introduce myself and talk to them about what we’re hearing and experiencing and getting to know them, too.
Q: Has it been difficult to return volunteers to active duty?
A: It has been kind of a roller coaster of having them assigned, able to go out and visit, having to pull back again, and then having them able to go back out but in a different way. There have been different PPE and protocols, different from what they’re used to and what any of us have been used to. That has happened a couple of times. While a lot of people have been nervous to get back out there, I would say a good half of them have said, “I want to go back out. Volunteering has been so important to me. I don’t know what to do without it. Just tell me what I need to do, and I will do it.”
Q: I’m sure you have had to be creative finding things for volunteers to do and making connections with community organizations. Can you talk about the Oaks Women’s Club and what it is doing?
A: Actually they reached out to me about a year ago. Cindy Allcox is the point person, and she reached out and said “I run this women’s group. We all get together the second Monday of every month and we do handmade flower arrangements.” They wanted them to go to brighten someone’s days. Originally, we were thinking giving them to patients at the hospice houses. But they make 30 or 32 of them each time. I thought maybe they could come here and go out to facilities and patients’ homes and certainly to the hospice houses if they have a need. They also gave a monetary donation to continue supporting the horticulture program within the organization.
Q: How about the new Tidewell Treasures Resale Shop in Sarasota? What is the process of recruiting volunteers for that exciting venture?
A: There have been a few different target dates for the new Treasures location. Back when we thought the store would be off of Bee Ridge (Road), that was when I started to recruit. I reached out to high schools, thinking we could engage some high school students. That didn’t get super far because we didn’t have a firm location. I reached out to our own volunteer pool to see who might be interested. I have been building a list for a year. When we identified this new location, it became more strategic as far as recruiting and getting more volunteers involved. It happened as our current volunteers started helping at the store, taking donations and seeing the space and where it would be. Word of mouth was the biggest recruitment strategy that happened. There are a few ladies who live really close to the store. They would volunteer and talk about that in their neighborhood groups, and it spread. I also asked (store manager) Jamie (White) if I could put a flier on the window because people were stopping in all the time. I got a lot of calls from that, too. Around 100 volunteers is the target, like the Venice store. We really can’t have too many volunteers. It’s a big store. The community response has been great with the donations.
Q: What does your job mean to you?
A: I had a phone call earlier today from a volunteer who was calling to say she was sorry she hasn’t been as active as she wants to be. She just wanted to reach out and to talk. Maybe she doesn’t have that connection in the community. Isolation has been such a big theme. Uncertainty, stress, fear, all the things the pandemic has brought. Seeing volunteerism has been eye-opening, just in the community, the compassion that is here but also the connection that is directed toward Tidewell Hospice just through being a volunteer. This job has been such a meaningful experience to see the community have a light happening in such a dark and scary time for a lot of these people. I often get the phone call or visit just to say, “Hey, I’m happy to be a volunteer. What do you need me to do?”
Tidewell Hospice is an Empath Health company. To learn more about volunteering with Tidewell Hospice, contact Sue Forbes at (941) 441-2061 or visit EmpathHealth.org/Volunteer.