Employee Spotlight: Carolyn Washington

Name: Carolyn Washington, Care Center Hospice Aide

How long have you worked here?
14 years.

What made you decide to work here?
I liked hospice care better because…it’s different. You learn more about different types of care for people going through the dying phase. I just like hospice.

How had you heard of Angela Hospice?
The funny thing is I was riding by and I said, “Oh, Angela Hospice.” I came on a weekend and asked this guy if they were hiring and he told me to come back Monday. I came back that Monday and met with someone and put in an application. They hired me right on the spot.

What’s a typical day like for you?
Busy. Really busy. Time goes by really quickly.

What is your favorite part about working at Angela Hospice?
The staff, its good teamwork, the patients, and the families.

Carolyn (left) works with patients as an aide.
What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Angela Hospice?
In the old Care Center there was one patient who was a lot of fun. She kept us going. She was one of a kind. She was an ALS patient and we would go to her room and we would talk with her, and watch her favorite shows. I enjoyed her.

I remember one day she wanted us to give her a tub bath and she liked to have her legs shaved and have her hair done different ways. She was the type of lady that always ordered something online. She inspired me. I learned a lot from her.

You learn a lot from them. Everyone is different. You learn a lot of different stories from different families.

Angela Hospice Choir Receives LeadingAge Michigan Award

This week, the Angela Hospice Choir received LeadingAge Michigan’s Group Volunteer of the Year Award! In honor of the recognition, we chatted with Angela Hospice’s Director of Volunteer Services, Syndie Best, about the nomination process, why she thought they would be a good group to nominate, and how she told the group they won.

To read more about the choir check out the volunteer spotlight we recently ran on choir director Evelyn Wojkowiak.

The choir at the LeadingAge Michigan awards.
How did you find out about the LeadingAge Michigan awards?
Marti [Coplai, Angela Hospice Executive Director] forwarded me the information. She knew about them. Not a lot of hospices have choirs, so when she found out that we have a choir she said, "Hey, you should see if you can nominate them."

What was the nomination process like?
LeadingAge only does one group award so they wanted to know the history of the group, what it is they do, how long they’ve been doing it, what kind of impact it has on the organization, and feedback from residents.

I had to do some digging to find out the origins because the people that I thought were the originals were like, "Oh no, you have to talk to so-and-so. They were here before me." So then I’d call them and they’d be like, "Oh no no, you have to talk to so-and-so." It was like a treasure hunt trying to pin down who knew the answers.

It was kind of neat to hear how it started though. Some regular Care Center volunteers were with a patient, who was kind of agitated, and the volunteer started singing and it calmed the patient. A nurse made the observation that she should do that for all their patients because they would love that. The one volunteer that was singing knew another volunteer who had friends who loved to sing, and it sort of blossomed into this group.

Why did you think the choir would be a good group to nominate?
Most of what they do is behind the scenes. They come here and practice every other Wednesday, and just kind of go and do their thing. They are very willing to take requests; they’re very flexible as far as what kind of styles and stuff they sing, and they welcome anybody that wants to join. They are a group that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Music is such a – it sounds cheesy – but it really is such a gift. There are scientific studies that show that music touches a different part of the brain; it’s interpreted by a different part of the brain than language. So some of our patients who wouldn’t benefit as much even from a volunteer coming to sit and talk with them, music can reach them in a way that nothing else can. That’s a really special thing to be able to offer. And just the comfort that music brings when they sing some of the older music. You watch the patients’ faces light up and you know that they’re remembering happy times…it’s a very nostalgic thing too. I think that they’re a very worthwhile group of people that are doing a very worthwhile thing for our patients.

The choir was filmed a few months ago for the awards.
How did it feel to find out they won?
I was so excited! I could not wait to tell them. They don’t get a lot of pomp and that kind of notoriety, so to be able to go down to their rehearsal and say, “Guess what, you guys?!”

I hadn’t even let on that I had nominated them. I went down there and told them all about LeadingAge, and how they nominate group volunteers. I said, “I was thinking about nominating you guys as a group,” and they were all kind of like, “That’s really cool.” I said, “Actually, I already did nominate you and you guys won!”

You would’ve thought they won the lottery, they were so excited. A couple of them got choked up and weepy. I think they were very grateful to be recognized. None of them are big prima donnas and all, “I’m so great, it’s about time you recognized me.” They were all just very humble and very grateful and very surprised. It was really fun.

What do you think makes the choir special?
There are a lot of people who love to sing, they love music, they love being a part of a musical group, but if you said, “Could you come to a hospice Care Center where you’re going to go in the rooms of patients who are dying?” they would run screaming the other direction.

Then there’s lots of volunteers who are comfortable in this environment but don’t have the gift of music. So to have a group of people who are gifted with music, who are humble and willing to share their gift, and to be comfortable in an environment like this, I think that’s a pretty extraordinary group of people.

Winner Takes All Raffle

Angela Hospice is selling a limited number of tickets for the "Winner Takes All" Raffle. The complete list of prizes is featured below. You could win them ALL, so don't miss out! To order your ticket(s), print the flyer below or call (734) 464-7810.

Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Shareef

Name: Sarah Shareef

How long have you been a volunteer?
Two years.

What areas do you work in/what sort of tasks do you do as a volunteer?
Works the ice cream socials.

What made you decide to become a volunteer?
I volunteered at Beaumont Hospital before and I wanted something that was a little closer to home. Someone from my sister’s school recommended coming here and I did.

What is your favorite part about volunteering?
I guess just trying to make someone’s day, even when they haven’t had the best day and they just need that little way to make them feel better. Especially when I’m doing the ice cream socials, it’s like they put a smile on someone’s face.

Sarah works the ice cream socials in the Care Center.
What is one of your favorite stories or memories from volunteering?
There was this gentleman that was telling me about his childhood and how they’d ride their bikes up to the gas station that was down the street, and they would go buy an ice cream for like a nickel. It was like we had brought him back to his childhood. Then he was talking about what his mom would make him for dinner and how her spaghetti was so good. It was nice to hear. I like those kinds of stories when older people tell you all about their childhood.

Employee Spotlight: Debbie Brewer

Name: Debbie Brewer, Intake Coordinator

How long have you worked here?
Nine years this July.

What made you decide to work here?
I had a friend that had worked here and I had been going back to school to be a medical assistant. I got my certification in phlebotomy and medical billing, and my friend told me there was a position opening up as an intake coordinator.  I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I felt that I needed to have a change in my career…I felt that I needed to do something more in my life.

How had you heard of Angela Hospice?
My father was an Angela Hospice patient in 1995. We had Angela Hospice for three days before he died, and the three days were wonderful. They were short but they were wonderful. It was a very good experience so that made me think that maybe I should switch careers in my life.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m on the phone a lot. We gather information about patients and we’re also explaining to patients’ families how home hospice services work. So I’m here to give them information but then offer support and tell them about the great services that we do offer.

The other piece of my job is the Care Center. I bring patients into our Care Center when we have rooms available. I’m back and forth a lot with hospitals or nursing homes, trying to coordinate patients’ coming to our facility if we have a room available.

Debbie is an Intake Coordinator and has worked at
Angela Hospice for almost nine years.
What is your favorite part about working at Angela Hospice?
My favorite part is being able to help people. The Care Center, for a lot of families, is important to them. For instance, there was a family that was just so grateful – tearfully grateful – that we had a room available that we could bring their parent into our Care Center. I think just being able to help people, offer support to patients’ families, because it is a difficult phone call for them to make. In fact, I just got off the phone with a patient’s family, it was very difficult for her to call but she felt that it was time for our services.

Everybody’s great to work with in my area, and just Angela Hospice staff as a whole – everybody’s very supportive. Everyone works very well together as a team. As I say, “There’s no I in team!”

What is one of your favorite memories from your time at Angela Hospice?
Again, I would say it was probably the patient that I had brought into the Care Center whose family was just so grateful because they didn’t know what they were going to do. They were working, and it was just…they couldn’t care for their loved one at home and they were just so grateful and thankful that we were able to bring their loved one into the Care Center here and take care of them.

Volunteer Spotlight: Singing from the Heart

Evelyn (right) with some fellow choir members.
For volunteer Evelyn Wojkowiak the Angela Hospice choir is much more than just a group that sings together a few times a month; they’re family.

“We’re a very open family,” Evelyn said. “I think the residents and their families and friends kind of feel the love that we have, so we’re able to give that love to them through our music, and we get a lot of love back. I think that’s the best part, giving and receiving the love.”

Evelyn has been sharing the love for nearly 20 years as the group’s director, a position she got by default.

When she joined the choir, after seeing an ad in the newspaper, she had no intention of becoming the group’s director. But then the position opened up and Evelyn was the most qualified. Plus, she had a keyboard.

“They’re going, ‘You’re working on your music degree. Here, you be the leader,’” she laughed. “I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna be the leader!’ And they said I was the only one qualified.”

Flash forward 18 years and she’s still leading the group, which meets twice a month to sing for patients in the Care Center, and covers everything from “Amazing Grace” to more season specific songs like “Silent Night.”

The group now has about 16 members and there is no formal audition process. Volunteers simply show up a few times to see if they’re a good fit. The group’s members sing at a variety of levels, some more polished than others, but once they start singing as a group they become a cohesive whole.

Evelyn directing the choir at Tree of Life.
Evelyn said that it’s a good thing the group has varying degrees of vocal skills because that way residents or visitors can feel free to sing along. They don’t have to worry about having perfect pitch or being right on key. They can just sing with the group. Those moments of people singing with them has led to some of Evelyn’s fondest memories as a choir member.

“What we see a lot are people that are almost in a comatose state and you’ll see little tears coming,” she said. “You’ll see hands moving, feet moving, lips moving.”

How does it feel for Evelyn to watch those moments unfold? Humbled.

“I’m Catholic and I know there’s works we’re supposed to do and when you do that it just humbles you,” she said. “You go, ‘That’s why I was given this gift.’”

Evelyn was given the gift of music at a young age, starting with the guitar she begged her parents for so she could learn to read music. Then she started playing the trumpet, which was her major music outlet until about 12 years ago when singing really took over. She’s also been singing in church choirs for 40 years, including the Archdiocesan Chorus of Detroit, a group that she went to Rome with this year to sing for the Pope. That isn’t the only exciting thing she’s gotten to do as a choir member.

In March, Evelyn was filmed with a few other members of Angela Hospice as part of a video for LeadingAge Michigan, which awarded the choir the 2016 Group Volunteer of the Year Award. She might have been nervous from all the cameras and the lights but then they started asking her questions.

Evelyn was filmed for LeadingAge Michigan in March.
“Once they started asking me questions and I could talk from my heart, it become very easy,” she said. “It was nice to be able to talk about Angela Hospice and the choir.”

During the last 18 years, Evelyn has watched the group change in many ways, including the number of members, which has nearly tripled. She’s also gotten to watch the confidence of the singers’ increase, in both their singing ability and how they are around patients, as well as the quality and variety of music.

“They will now go up – and as long as it’s OK – they’ll hold their hand. They’ll stay behind and talk with them, they’ll hug them,” she said.

Being a hugger is one of Evelyn’s “requirements” to anyone thinking about joining the choir.

“You have to be a hugger,” she laughed. “We give out a lot of hugs to people. Sometimes it’s because they’re crying; sometimes you can just see that they’re exhausted….We don’t sing in their ear though.”

Other aspects of being a good choir member include a love of singing, especially in groups; and if they can carry a tune, that’s an added bonus – but not a necessity.

Her love for the choir and the people they sing for is why Evelyn has volunteered all these years, and why she hopes to continue for some time.

“As long as I can sing, and wave my arms in funny directions, I’ll probably continue to do it,” Evelyn said.