Outstanding volunteer: Milford resident honored for Delaware Hospice work

Living life to its fullest isn’t always a piece of cake. But Delaware Hospice volunteer Harriet Davies says it could be a walk in the park or a game of chess.

It’s that peace of mind that struck a chord in the heart of employees who nominated the Milford resident for a Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award in the Human Needs category this year.

“I think that Harriet’s compassion, as well as her empathy, and the well-rounded nature in which she serves makes her a perfect candidate for human needs awards,” Maxine Middlebrook of Delaware Hospice said. “She does a number of things. She has 480 hours of service recorded just for us. There were only two other people awarded that had more hours than Harriet. And that doesn’t even include everything else she does.”

In addition to acting as a patient volunteer with Delaware Hospice, Mrs. Davies has also volunteered for the Dover Symphony for the past 30 years and Avenue United Methodist Church over the last 50 years. She’s a member of the Rose Colored Lasses in Milford, a service-minded organization, among other affiliations.

Mrs. Davies retired after teaching middle school children in the Milford School District for 30 years and college students at Delaware Tech for 10 years. By then, she had already begun volunteering with the Dover Symphony and her home church in Milford. A role at Delaware Hospice wasn’t on her radar — yet.

Then, her mother had a stroke in 2004.

“A bad stroke,” Mrs. Davies recalled. “A relative had offered to take care of her and that way she was going to be able to stay at the family farm for the rest of her life.”

It wasn’t long after her mother passed away when Mrs. Davies heard of a need at Delaware Hospice.

“In probably February of 2005, I was looking through the Avenue [United Methodist] Church bulletin in the choir loft, and I read that Delaware Hospice was looking for volunteers. And my first thought was, well, that’s really well out of my comfort zone,” she recalled. “But, my second thought was, this might be a payback for a hospice helping with my mother. I was assigned a patient right out of the gate after training.”

Her experience with her first patient helped convince Mrs. Davies that it wouldn’t be her last.

“I can’t give out names, but I can say he was a fire chief for his little community and a plant manager. He was a very well-respected member of his community. But, like it often happens, when you get really sick, people don’t flock to your house to see you anymore. But people loved to see him,” she said.

“When I would go to see him, we would watch Andy Griffith for about an hour. Then I would take him all around his town for another hour in his wheelchair. If there was a truck at the station, we would go there. I learned so much from those wheelchair walks. I was with him for a year, and I was just hooked.”

Every patient is different, she added.

Sometimes, the extra time with a patient meant a family member could be relieved to do another activity of their own, offering a different kind of support by simply spending time with someone.

“Several years ago, I went to a patient’s home and his daughter was his primary caregiver. She said to me when I agreed to take this man, ‘If you agree to play Dominoes with him, you will be his next best friend.’ I played dominoes with him for a year. She was a photographer. So, for her time away, she would take her camera and go to a play at Bombay Hook and have quiet time,” Mrs. Davies said. “There was a man whose wife I would sit with in the evening so that he could go out for a bike ride with his riding group. That was his quiet time. For another man, I sat with his wife so that he could go watch his great-grandsons play in their little league games.”

Other patients have asked Mrs. Davies to read the Bible to them, play Scrabble or enjoy music together.

“There were two people that I’ve even been able to take on rides occasionally,” she smiled. “One woman had grown up near Killens Pond on a farm. And that’s one of my favorite places to hike with my grandson,” she said. “So, I asked her when was the last time she went to Killens Pond? She couldn’t remember. So, I took her over to Killens Pond so she could see the farm where she grew up, and then we went to the actual park. She had no idea what it looked like. The point of it all is that it’s always their agenda. It’s not my agenda.”

Mrs. Davies’ work with Delaware Hospice doesn’t end with the patients. She also volunteers with Camp New Hope, a summer camp for children who have experienced a loss.

Volunteering is where Mrs. Davies finds her own comfort while knowing she made a difference in someone else’s life.

Her passion for service drew out the nomination for the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award, along with two tables of friends cheering her on during the awards ceremony.

“It was amazing. There were my Rose Colored Lasses, most of them and several of their husbands came. I had no idea they were coming. My support group was two tables of ten,” Mrs. Davies said. “The governor spoke about volunteering in general and what it meant to him when his father had gotten one of these kinds of awards and how the picture of his father with Mike Castle, who was governor at the time, still has a prominent place in their home. I thought that was really neat.”

Mrs. Davies says she hopes to continue volunteering for many more years.

“I have two quotes on the side of my refrigerator that are important to me: ‘Be someone who makes someone else look forward to tomorrow,’ and ‘Make sure you leave something in this world besides clothes, a nice house and a stock portfolio,’” she said. “For me, that means using my time to enrich my and other’s lives — providing a much needed break for a caregiver, taking my special needs grandson on bike rides, rehearsing for an orchestral concert and so many other ways.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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