JUNCTION CITY — Mae Cox lives in a spacious, sun-filled home with her husband of 51 years, Elbert. Elbert Cox, a Heritage Hospice patient with prostate cancer, usually can be found sitting in his recliner, reading a western.
Mae Cox devotes much of her time to caring for her 86-year-old husband, but when she wants to get away and clear her head, she’s glad she can rely on a volunteer from hospice to fill her shoes.
John Sullivan has been coming to the Coxes’ home every Wednesday night for more than three years. He leaves his part-time job in customer service at Burkmann Feeds and arrives at the Cox home just in time to sit down to whatever supper Mae Cox has prepared.
“It’s like a family,” says Sullivan, who has varied his schedule by stopping by the Cox home on a Tuesday morning to discuss his volunteer work for Heritage Hospice.
When asked if he has a favorite meal, Sullivan says Mae Cox makes a lot of good dishes.
“I eat everything she serves up,” he says, exchanging a smile with Mae Cox.
Sullivan says one of the main things he likes about helping the Coxes is feeling appreciated.
“Mae is one of those people who says, ‘Thank you,’ when you leave and that’s a big plus. They appreciate what you do.”
Mae Cox says she is glad to provide a meal. She has some support through Senior Companions but her son, Elbert Jr., works 12-hour shifts that prevent him from relieving her. Sullivan’s willingness to come to her house gives her an opportunity to attend her church, Faith Temple Pentecostal Church of God, or simply run errands.
“Sometimes I go play cards,” she says, professing an affection for Phase 10, a rummy-like game.
Sullivan’s wife, Jennifer, sometimes accompanies him to the Cox home and has even joined Mae Cox at the card table.
“Shanghai rummy is what I called it,” Jennifer Sullivan says with a laugh. She also has been through Heritage Hospice’s volunteer training. While not an active volunteer, she works as a patient representative at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center and has aided the Coxes when she knew Elbert needed to be admitted.
John Sullivan says he decided to volunteer for hospice six years ago because Heritage Hospice served his father.
“When my dad passed away, we had hospice. I guess it was two or three years later I decided I would pay it back.”
Sullivan finds serving others rewarding.
“I’ve heard many volunteers say they get more out of it than they give. I just enjoy serving patients and helping somebody that needs help.”
Although he feels like a part of the Cox family, Sullivan notes if volunteers don’t like a placement they can switch to another patient.
“It’s not like a job where you have to go. If there’s a case where you don’t fit in with the family you can go to another family.”
Wendy Hellard, Heritage Hospice’s director of volunteer services for 15 years, says she tries to be flexible and make the assignments as convenient as possible.
Hellard points out that some volunteers give a couple of hours a week and others donate more time. She knows many volunteers are juggling their community service with a full-time job and she tries to consider many factors in placing volunteers with families.
“We try to match the patient and the volunteers and their interests. We try to keep the volunteers as close as we can in their counties.”
Hellard also knows what it’s like to be a hospice volunteer. She volunteered three years before she put her fundraising and organization talents to use as volunteer coordinator. About 80 volunteers are involved with hospice and Hellard is amazed at the commitment to the program.
“We have retained more than 80 percent of our volunteers who started with us 15 years ago.”
Volunteers perform many services for Heritage Hospice. They hold an annual plant sale in May that is a big fundraiser for the agency. The money pays for extras that patients may need, such as items not covered by Medicare.
She says many volunteers take on the role of friend.
“Sometimes we just visit with them. They watch TV together. They can do scrapbooking together. I think one of the main things is they can give a break to the caregiver, just to go out and do some things they need to do,” Hellard says.
If people want to help but can’t work with patients, Hellard says there are office duties they can perform.
“There is a place for anyone who wants to volunteer with hospice.”
At the Coxes’, Sullivan spends a couple of hours a week keeping a watchful eye on Elbert, a former farmer and retired employee of Penn Ventilator. Sullivan notes that Elbert doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does the topic is fishing.
Over the years, Elbert Cox has been in and out of hospice care as his health has changed. In some ways, he is like the characters populating the westerns he enjoys.
“I’ve always said he’s tough as barbed wire,” Sullivan says.
Heritage Hospice Inc. which serves Boyle, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, will have a day of volunteer training Jan. 15. Volunteers are vital to the work at Heritage Hospice. Examples of ways volunteers assist are running errands, light housekeeping and spending time with patients so caregivers may have a break.
Volunteers must be age 18 or older.
Anyone interested in volunteering needs to attend the training set for
9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Jan. 15 at Heritage Hospice, 120 Enterprise Drive in
Danville. Registration ends at noon Jan. 13. Call Wendy Hellard,
director of volunteer services, at (859) 236-2425 or