Written by Ken Garfield
With caution and compassion, nonprofits are looking to volunteers to help carry the load even as COVID-19 forces them to do it remotely. These three Charlotte-based nonprofits are among the many organizations carefully planning a return to normalcy for staff and volunteers. Until then, the good work goes on…
When COVID-19 kept Lisa Kohler from sitting at the bedside of her Hospice patient, she did the next best thing: Lisa helped throw a 91st birthday party from outside Gloria’s window in assisted living, singing her trademark song, Oh what a beautiful mornin’…
“You could see the tears in her eyes.” Lisa says.
Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region provides care and comfort to those facing serious illness or nearing life’s end. Each day, HPCCR doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, social workers, chaplains and others serve nearly 2,000 patients in 23 counties in North and South Carolina. Lisa is among the 450 volunteers who provide invaluable support on several fronts, from visiting patients and families to helping keep the office running. HPCRR welcomes many volunteers through SHARE Charlotte.
Among volunteer contributions, a group of women gather each Thursday at the office to call 300 HPCCR patients and families to make sure they have what they need for the weekend. The pandemic put a stop to that, but they’ll be back as soon as soon as it is safe to do so. HPCCR’s Cindy Tilley and Elise Hurst say there’s no date yet for a return to normalcy. The first priority, they say, is safety, especially involving volunteers going into patients’ homes.
Lisa is still finding a way to make Gloria smile.
In April, there was the birthday party outside Gloria’s window at The Pavilion Health Center at Brightmore. How she loved that! In May, there was the Mother’s Day parade in which Lisa decorated her vehicle with a banner. Since 2018, Lisa has been brightening Gloria’s day with a song and a smile. Why stop now, even during a pandemic?
“This reaffirms that she’s loved and missed,” Lisa says.
Classroom Central operates out of an old motorcycle shop on Wilkinson Boulevard, furnishing free school supplies for teachers to give to students. The numbers are staggering: In 2018-19, some 85,000 students in 200 schools in and around Charlotte had Classroom Central to thank for pens, pencils, books and more. They also had nearly 2,500 volunteers to thank, for their selflessness makes it all possible.
With the warehouse/office closed, probably until summer, one volunteer took it upon herself to move Classroom Central – to her dining room table. For the past decade, Jo Anne Caruso has been stocking shelves, packing supplies for teachers and more. Figuring there are better ways to shelter in place than binging on Netflix, she and her husband, Bob, have planted themselves at their table. They’ve been making flash cards to help children with their colors, shapes and more. She’s also been knitting hats and scarves because kids can’t learn when you’re shivering. They’ve also made a financial donation, critical because the pandemic cost many nonprofits their Spring fundraiser.
A retired school librarian, Jo Anne devoted her career to helping children discover the joy of learning. COVID-19 can’t keep her from answering that same call. Anyway, sheltering in place for several months leaves a person a lot of time. “We’ve also caught up on three years of yardwork,” she says.
Since opening in 2005, Samaritan House has given 1,730 guests a place to stay after leaving the hospital or ER. David and Lissa Tipple are two of the many volunteers (3,900 in 2019) who make it happen – furnishing meals, driving guests to medical and other appointments, doing yardwork and more. “We couldn’t operate this place without volunteers,” says Gregg Chapman, the facility manager and volunteer coordinator. “They’re the heart and soul of Samaritan House.”
David serves on the board of Samaritan House. Before the quarantine, Lissa brought meals and provided transportation. Walmart is a popular destination. While guests shop, she’ll sometimes purchase kitchen supplies for Samaritan House. During the quarantine, with the house off limits to volunteers, she’s been dropping off meals outside the home off Monroe Road. Bojangles’ tailgate special is a hit.
Samaritan House isn’t sure when volunteers will be able to return to the house. When that day comes, Lissa will step inside and reconnect with guests, comforting them with her friendship and her story. Lissa, 68, is a breast cancer survivor. She’s traveled the same road as such guests as Anita, whose extended stay gave the two women plenty of time to talk. Whatever medical challenge brings a person to Samaritan House, Lissa is waiting for them with more than a meal.
In volunteering as in life, it’s the relationships that are most precious.
“My illness has given me a kind of kinship with them,” Lissa says. “It’s been a blessing to me.”
To learn more about these and other local nonprofits who have been directly impacted by COVID-19 and how to best suppor them at this time, go here.