New project seeks compassion

Anita Savio – IVN contributing writer

The new pilot program “Compassionate Presence Project” needs volunteers to provide companionship and support for adults who have a terminal diagnosis.
According to project director Angela Franklin, the project will train volunteers to use active listening skills during visits with participants.
Project participants will generally be either 60 years or older, or be an adult with a physical disability and generally have an end of life diagnosis of 18 months or less. They may be referred by the Aging and Disability Resource Connection, case managers, community organizations, churches, or a family member. Volunteers will be there to help participants that are experiencing social isolation, depression, loneliness or other emotional distress. The project is funded by the Oregon Health Authority. Volunteers can be any age, and in fact, Franklin would love to see some younger volunteers as well as older ones.
Franklin said that volunteers are especially needed in the Illinois Valley. “We have our own culture here. A lot of times in hospice people don’t seem comfortable asking for volunteers because it would be people coming out from Grants Pass. If potential participants know that locals are trained and available to come out and support them, they might be more likely to welcome them.”
Volunteers will be trained, among other things, in reminiscence therapy. Reminiscence therapy is basically a life review. There is a set of specific questions that bring out a more thoughtful look into someone’s past life and gives them the means to address some of the things that they might be wanting to resolve. It could include looking at some of the things that they are most proud of, because right now they might be feeling very down and hopeless. Franklin stressed that this does not involve “fixing” the person. It’s about being someone who is there to walk alongside the participant.
“There are specific questions you can ask, rather than just ‘tell me about your life,’” said Franklin, adding, “Because somebody who might be depressed might not think about the things that were meaningful to them., it’s a pathway to lift someone up.”
Volunteers are asked to volunteer from one to four hours a week, depending upon the participant need and their own availability.
Franklin definitely has the appropriate background to run the project, as she is an end of life doula. The term doula is usually used in the context of a birth midwife. Franklin refers to herself as a “death midwife” because she gets involved when people have gotten a diagnosis and she goes through the whole process with them.
Franklin will help patients with: physical decline, advanced care planning, getting their house ready, helping them navigate the system, helping them plan their funeral, educating their family to be part of the funeral, and even taking care of the body as much as possible.
Whether it’s an expected or unexpected death, whether it’s a suicide or a homicide, it all needs to be attended to.
As an older adult specialist, Franklin is part of a statewide initiative called the Older Adult Behavioral Health Initiative, created and funded by OHA. Franklin was asked by her state level supervisor to create a project that could be used in a long-term care setting, address depression in older adults and use volunteers. Thus was born the Compassionate Presence Project.
Those interested in volunteering can email Franklin at afranklin@optionsonline.org or call her at 541-450-2036. The next training for volunteers is Thursday, Feb. 2.