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.

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