In honor of National Volunteer Week, we chatted with Stephanie Pietras, Volunteer Manager at the Bailey Boushay House, a Seattle-based provider committed to delivering exceptional and compassionate care to people with HIV/AIDS, as well as end-of-life care for people with ALS and other complex conditions.
While COVID-19 forced the group to press pause on their robust volunteer program, as vaccination access increases and case numbers drop, the organization is optimistic about the gradual return of their beloved volunteer staff.
Read on to learn how the organization’s unique volunteers help the Bailey-Boushay house achieve their mission.
Helping clients achieve autonomy
At Bailey-Boushay House, volunteers enter with a unique perspective, with no agenda. Pietras points to their nonjudgmental presence, an approach that “truly psychosocially make all the difference.”
Pietras goes on to explore how the relationships between volunteers and residents and clients help individuals at Bailey-Boushay achieve autonomy.
“Autonomy is so important to our residents and our clients. I think our volunteers allow autonomy in a different way through how they build relationships with clients in a way that staff cannot, given the contractual nature of their work.”
Within these relationships is a shared comraderie, a unique bond that allows for the organization to achieve their goal of providing truly compassionate care.
COVID-19 and the volunteer program
For 393 days, the Bailey-Boushay house grieved the loss of their volunteers.
“There was this immediate sense of loss,” explained Pietras. “Our volunteers grieved the loss of seeing us and being a part of our community, the staff and residents and clients grieved the loss of seeing them.”
Despite this challenging, year-long hiatus, April first marked the return of the first volunteer.
Pietras recalls the unignorable energy she felt emanating from the night staff as they clocked out that night, the conversation that turned to the return of volunteers. “I think I saw one last night!” someone exclaimed.
For now, the Bailey-Boushay House plans to bring back one volunteer per week, expanding their ranks gradually until they can again be at full capacity, until they can again be together.
As restrictions continue to lift, the Bailey-Boushay House community looks forward to a return to regular volunteer activities.
Residents, clients and staff eagerly await the return of pet therapy, a program that connects therapy teams with organizations in the Seattle area. Soon, the halls will ring with the clip of Doc Marten-clad hooves, as three miniature horses resume their visits. A fan-favorite, these horses provide joy and laughter, often sporting tiaras and bowlers, bow ties and tutus.
In addition to animal visits that offer residents and clients therapeutic touch, the community looks forward to the return of volunteer hair cutters.
“Imagine someone who has been in bed for the last year and a half and has super low self-esteem,” explains Pietras. “To have your hair done and have time to engage with someone else not only builds a relationship—it builds autonomy.”
She points to the physical changes evidenced in outpatient clients who receive haircuts: a straighter spine, a more assured stride, a more recognizable version of self in the mirror.
Thank you, volunteers, for your selfless devotion, for sharing joy this and every week.
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