Suncoast Hospice Volunteer Terry Pellegrino

Terry Pellegrino is a world traveler. She hiked in Switzerland, Germany and France, admired tulips and artwork in New Amsterdam and Holland, celebrated her 92nd birthday in Russia and Lithuania, and many other adventures.

Today she spends three days a week volunteering at the Suncoast Hospice Care Center in Palm Harbor. Her travel stories create a unique entryway for conversation and comfort during visits with patients.

“I was with a patient in one room. He is a young man of age 41, too young to be sick. He needed cheering up. I talked to him for quite a bit and calmed him. We talked about many things. Men don’t open up so much but they do when you talk about traveling. You can really get to know them. He gets happy to see me and decided to give me a jar of peppers. I always tell him I’m coming back,” Pellegrino shared.

Pellegrino celebrates her 100th birthday this May, recognized nationally as Older Americans Month: Connect, Create Contribute. As she grows older, she remains motivated to stay physically and socially active.

“I’m just a little, old lady plugging along. My ritual is I am up at 4:30 a.m. and I do exercises. I had a hip problem and that’s the therapy I started and still do today. I have a large flower garden. I have someone that comes in and helps me and I try to get out there (garden) for an hour,” she said.

A few decades ago Pellegrino and her late husband retired and moved from New Jersey to Florida, where their two sons live. She worked in book publishing and the couple loved long walks and travel. After her husband’s death, she wanted to get out into the community to do something meaningful. So she became a volunteer.

Pellegrino couple steps out for the evening.

Pellegrino explained, “My husband passed away 15 years ago. I had hospice only for one week for him. After he passed away, I would walk around my house and say, what I am doing here? I am just wasting here. So I got in the car and went to hospice. I have been a volunteer for 14 years. It has been a great trip. People ask, how can you do that for so many years? I say, how can I not do it? It’s such a necessary thing.”

Her service varies from performing office work to visiting and comforting patients and families.

“I enjoy volunteering because I know what I am doing for the patients and that’s the biggest reward I could have. At the time that we see patients, they are so frightened, sick and full of pain, and they don’t know what the next step is going to be for them. I am there to gently talk to and touch them. Sometimes I sing to them. The only song I know is, “You are My Sunshine,” the song I would sing to my boys,” she noted.

She brings an added layer of relief to patients through Reiki, an ancient Japanese technique that uses a gentle touch to create a sense of warmth and relaxation.

She added, “I became a Reiki master to keep doing even more for patients. I get such wonderful results. I had a patient and I went in to do Reiki for her. This poor person was in severe pain. I talked to her and helped soothe her.”

Terry and her sons celebrate at the volunteer appreciation luncheon.

Pellegrino was honored with a 2013 Suncoast Hospice Volunteer of the Year Award for her outstanding support. She finds it uplifting.

“Oh definitely. Volunteering isn’t only what you are doing for somebody else but what it does for you. It is a wonderful social thing. You meet beautiful people while you are volunteering,” she said.

Faith, service, kindness and family are her secrets to happiness.

She expressed, “My faith is very important to me. I have a list of people and patients I pray for at night. That’s part of my thanks and peace. You should try to be kind and smile to everybody you see. The more time you have to show to others, the better it is for you. I’ve been blessed with wonderful children. The traveling was fantastic. I am very grateful. It has been such a good life.”

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