It’s Time for Change!

Over the past several months, a microscopic entity forced us to face our fragility and vulnerability. This invisible creature brought our lives to a halt, forced us to live and work in near isolation, and, most egregiously, experience the heartache and extreme pain caused by knowing that our loved ones were dying alone in an intensive care unit. It’s time for change.

Adding to this travesty, we witnessed the awful human capacity for brutality and callous behaviors. The images of George Floyd’s murder are forever emblazoned in our memories and go well beyond comprehension, reflecting the very worst of our human nature. It’s time for change.

However, in contrast, we also witnessed tens of thousands of people filling the streets of nearly every major city in the world protesting this inexcusable behavior.

I believe this offers some proof that there are more good and decent people than not. Seeing the emergence of this next generation of voices advocating for social justice, exposing racist behavior, and demanding change offer some degree of hope for humanity.

But will we really change? Will we have the tenacity to do the work necessary to bring about the change? Will we persevere? It will not be easy.

We are facing, centuries upon centuries of racism.

Culture change and subsequent policy changes do not happen overnight.

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”  

Martin Luther King, Jr.

We have to have the courage, a strong will, the intestinal fortitude to press ahead to fight the good fight. These words echo in my mind nearly every day.

“Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow.”  

Written by the prophet Isaiah some 3,000 years ago, these words are still relevant today as we are confronting the same abhorrent behaviors that lead to injustice, oppression, children abandoned, and older adults marginalized, mistreated, and misaligned.

 My life’s path led me to “…pleading for the widow,” and more explicitly advocating for the treatment of older adults living in nursing homes. While I am in no way equating ageism with racism and the recent horrific events, I do want people to know that far too many older adults are dying alone and, in far too many cases, prematurely. They suffer the consequences of ageist thinking, negative stereotypes that often lead to neglect and abuse.

Now, I want to be very clear that in the 30 years or so of working with people in nursing homes, the overwhelming majority of caregivers I met, are providing heroic care in a system that needs significant overhauling. But you don’t need a lot of bad apples to ruin the pie.

So how do we change the way people think about aging, older adults, and nursing homes?

Convinced by my research and the research of many others, I strongly recommend that nursing homes be required by regulation to implement and maintain a sustainable, dedicated robust volunteer program managed by a person that is certified in volunteer management (CVA). Coupled with having a professional manager of volunteers is implementing an onboarding process for recruiting, screening, and training well-qualified volunteers. It’s time for change.

Requiring this volunteer workforce would not only improve the quality of care and the quality of life for the people living in nursing homes, but it would provide a platform for educating the public as to what it means to live and work in a nursing home, (not to mention the impact the volunteer program would have on the nursing home’s CMS star rating)[i].

A robust volunteer program acts as a bridge to the greater community attracting new workers while correcting ageist thinking. How many people, who, having rarely ever thought of nursing homes recently witnessed because of COVID-19, the numerous social media posts depicting older adults and their loved ones peering at each other through glass windows, longing for the joy of embracing one another, sharing a kiss, breathing in the satisfaction of feeling connected?

How many people watched the social media posts of direct care workers donned in personal protective equipment (PPE) doing their best to provide excellent care while offering to make those personal connections on behalf of their loved ones? Who will post these images once the virus is gone?

Who will continue to tell the story?

Your volunteers will. Volunteers are not “nice to have” or a “supplement” to your nursing home staff. Instead, volunteers bring valuable gifts to your nursing home. They bring their passion, their love, their talents, their skills, their time, and most of all the feeling of connection. They are the conduit for change by engaging the community through a robust volunteer program. Educate your volunteers, and they will tell the story for you. They will become your champions.

Recently, while researching articles focused on nursing home volunteers, I found this quote:

“If non-pharmacological interventions were reimbursed in the manner that pharmacologic interventions are, it is likely that most costs would be offset by the decreased use of psychotropic drugs in the nursing home and related adverse events”[ii]

Professor Jiska Cohen-Mansfield

Well trained and professionally led volunteers are a “non-pharmacological intervention” with proven results. Now is the time to recognize volunteers as a necessary, vital, and integral part of your care delivery. Now is the time for change.

I would love the opportunity to be part of your change. See my contact me page for details.

[i] Centers for Medicare and Medicaid assign a star-rating to nursing homes based on the quality of care they are providing. See https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html

[ii] Source: Cohen-Mansfield J. Nonpharmacological management of behavioral problems in persons with dementia: The TREA Model. Alzheimer’s Care Quarterly. 2000;1(4):22-34.


Volunteers During a Crisis

For the past nine weeks, like many of you, I’ve been sheltering in place with the occasional brief excursion to the grocery or drug store only to hurry home to resume hiding. The one saving grace and antidote for this insanity comes through the online courses I am teaching.

Of particular joy for me was launching “Volunteer Management and Aging Services.” Now, at the end of the semester, it has been extremely satisfying to read the students’ final exam submissions. I ask them to explain what they were taking away from the course, and as they move into their careers (administrators, health care workers, and social workers) how would they apply what they’ve learned.

I am so encouraged by what my students expressed in their responses.

They explained how valuable and necessary volunteer support is to the paid staff. They talked about having a fully integrated volunteer and paid workforce, led by a trained professional, working together to fulfill the mission of the organization. Many of them admitted that before taking the course, they thought of volunteers as “unreliable.” Their perception of volunteers and volunteering has changed; they now realize that volunteers are more than just a “nice-to-have” add-on. Instead, they now understand that a viable and sustainable volunteer workforce should be led by a trained director of volunteers and that it won’t happen by accident.

They talked about developing an organizational philosophy concerning volunteers while garnering input and support from the board of directors to the frontline workers.  Many of them expressed surprise at the importance of developing and executing a cost-based analysis of the volunteer workforce as well as producing eye-popping impact statements that go well beyond just talking about what happened. I am hoping and believing that this class of students will be the first of many cohorts to bring these ideas to their workplace.

In the meantime, I’ve been contemplating my work as an advocate for long-term care volunteers.

I have been feeling very concerned thinking about the thousands of older adults that are now under quarantine as a result of COVID-19. Thinking about the pandemic and its impacts on the people living and working in nursing homes renews my resolve to convince long-term care providers that they are ignoring a valuable and viable resource by not cultivating what I call “super” volunteers. I explain this in detail in my book “Creating the Volun-Cheer Force.”

For this article, I wanted to find out what volunteers around the world are doing during this crisis. Searching the internet and social media, it did not take long to discover that volunteers around the globe are providing remarkable, innovative, and critical support to a variety of service providers and individuals while in some cases even exposing themselves to the risk of contracting the Coronavirus.

 One of my “go-to” sources is Twitter, as it is a near-real-time continuous conversation with people reporting on events from around the globe. Searching on the word “volunteers” was eye-opening as “tweet” after “tweet” expressed heartfelt gratitude for volunteers who are delivering meals, medicine, prescriptions, and other supplies to shut-ins, and to those who are too ill to leave home. Volunteers are making personal protective equipment (PPE) and even wearing PPE while being trained to provide nonmedical supports to hospital staff and patients.

At the writing of this article, most of the tweets about volunteers were coming from the United Kingdom. When it became apparent that the Coronavirus was going only to escalate, The Royal Voluntary Service working with the National Health Service (NHS) called for volunteers across the U.K. More than 750,000 people responded, the biggest response since World War II. (Johnstone, 2020)

Catherine Johnstone, CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, reports that “600,000 NHS Volunteer Responders are now ‘on duty’”

Stacey Dooley, journalist and filmmaker in her documentary “Lockdown heroes: Lying on a bed fighting for your life,” interviewed some of the people who decided that it was more important to help others than to avoid contact with others. What she is capturing is the soul of the human spirit that wants to pursue something meaningful and, in this case, often lifesaving.

The volunteers in the U.K. are doing everything imaginable from working in hospitals and care homes to providing meals to the homeless to going shopping for people who cannot get out because they are caring for loved ones at home.

Who are these people?

Some include trained medical providers others are professionals such as analysts, teachers, travel agents, among others, all doing what they can to provide support.

A calculations analyst makes hundreds of sandwiches in his kitchen, which he then distributes to the homeless while a financial regulator volunteers at a hospital, who admits at first, he was scared but now provides companionship and comfort to the patients. He shares that he has been combing one woman’s hair. He observes that “…when you are fighting for your life, care and compassion are what’s important.”

“…when you are fighting for your life, care and compassion are what’s important.”

A teacher and her friend, who is a travel agent, are making PPE scrubs for frontline workers. They report that they are working 60-hour weeks and have made thousands of scrubs and hats. They now have enlisted the help of 120 seamstresses!

One of the more remarkable stories is the South West Blood Bikes. These volunteers ride bright yellow motorcycles with the word “Blood” painted in large red letters on the bike’s front panel. They transport blood samples between hospitals, hospice providers, care homes, and now during the pandemic, pick up and deliver prescriptions to people who are not able to get to the pharmacy, along with a variety of other urgently needed supplies (SWBB.org.uk).

And, of course, there are volunteers around the globe from Canada to Dubai delivering meals.

Artem, a student at Moscow State University, delivered 100 bottles of antiseptic to the people of Krasnoznamensk among them veterans, elderly and families (Volunteers of Krasnoznamensk)

In Vancouver BC, the Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre (http://wechcpc.com/wechcpc/) recruits and trains volunteers to provide support to the Vancouver Police Department now patrolling neighborhoods dawned in “…gloves, washable masks, eye protection, [and] personal vests.”

Just as in the U.K. and elsewhere, it’s not hard to find volunteers doing remarkable things here in the United States, starting with Dan Owarzani…

a retired postal worker and veteran, now making deliveries for the Castle Garden Center, added four bags of groceries and some pre-made meals to a customer’s flower order. During her initial call to order flowers, she mentioned that she had not been out of her house in weeks. That’s when Dan took his cue. When asked why he did this, his response reveals a simple truth we all should embrace, “I would want someone to do the same for me.” (PowerOf.org)

Social media rings with stories like these. People are delivering groceries, providing virtual concerts, virtual birthday parties, happy hours, companionship, providing food and shelter, making PPE, teaching, and mentoring students.

May 8 marked the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day, founded in 1828 by Jean Henri Dunant

Today, nearly 12 million volunteers and 450, 000 staff are serving about 160 million people. The volunteers are responding to emergencies to include earthquakes, conflicts, migration crises, and health epidemics.

I’ll stop here as I have now well exceeded the recommended 1000-word limit for blogs. Suffice it to say; volunteers are providing valuable and critical support to millions of people around the globe. It’s amazing to see how people from all walks of life, cultures, and traditions are working together to survive this horrible event.

If properly trained, what could volunteers be doing for the people living and working in nursing homes?

In the field of aging and, in particular, in long-term care communities, we need to get serious about training a cadre of “super” volunteers who will take on critical responsibilities that will provide valuable and meaningful support to paid staff who are operating at or beyond the brink of exhaustion. Just like the financial regulator who rolled up his sleeves to help, dawning PPE, then walks into a hospital to visit with patients and even in some cases comb patient’s hair. Hence, our cities and towns are home to many similar such people who, given the opportunity and training, are ready and willing to roll up their sleeves too.

 Later, this year, via the Aging in America (AiA2020) Virtual Conference, I, along with colleagues, will be presenting research that offers empirical evidence that personalized volunteer activities and the use of psychotropic drugs and other quality measures are correlated. I’ll write more about this in an upcoming article. In the meantime, I will continue to speak out for nurturing strong, well-managed volunteer workforces!

I now offer online training for long-term care volunteers at VolunCheerLeader.net.

If you would like to preview the course, please let me know Paul@VolunCheerLeader.com,

In addition, be sure to listen to the VolunCheerLeader Podcast each week!

Until next time, take care and congratulations to the Class of 2020!


BBC –  “Lockdown heroes: ‘Lying on a bed fighting for your life’” Documentary film by Stacey Dooley. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcthree/article/0de0f064-00d5-4df1-ba20-375ffc1e5965 May 7, 2020

Johnstone, C. (5-5-2020) “From Supporting the Home Front to the NHS Front Line – the Charity leading Britain’s Biggest Volunteer Mobilisation since WW2” Retrieved from https://blog.insidegovernment.co.uk/volunteer-mobilisation May 7, 2020

PowerOf (2020) “Veteran surprises customer by delivering groceries and hot food with her flowers” Retrieved from https://www.power-of.org/explore May 7, 2020

South West Blood Bikes – Retrieved from https://www.swbb.org.uk/ May 7, 2020

Volunteers of Krasnoznamensk – Retrieved from https://vk.com/volunteer143090?w=wall-193484255_182 May 7, 2020


Every possible resource will be needed to support an ever-aging population in the U.S.

A colleague just shared the Washington Post article: “Taking steps to establish a National Volunteer Care Corps to help older adults” with me and I am just thrilled to see this happening. Creating a sustainable volunteer force is badly needed.

The National Volunteer Care Corps is a great beginning!

I think that this is an excellent beginning. I think the stats in the article are a bit understated, however. By 2046 the first of Millennials will begin turning 65 just as the first of the Boomers begin turning 85. This means that by 2050 the numbers of older adults in the U.S. will be approaching 100 million. In other words, we are just at the foot of the Mt Everest.

Every possible resource will be needed to support an ever-aging population. Now is time to start exploring and exploiting every possible resource to include what I call “super” volunteers, i.e., highly committed, self-starters looking for ways to give back to their community. I’ve been training volunteers at this level for about 25 years.

The time for creating a sustainable volunteer force is now!

Without a doubt creating a sustainable volunteer force is hard work and requires expert leadership. Yes, recruiting is tough but setting the bar low only leads to failure. Set the bar high and you will find people that can jump that high. Yes, there will be a fair amount of attrition right up front, but the people that make it through the vetting and training process do not quit. I know this from experience.

Shifting paradigms

Shifting the mentality about volunteers in the U.S. will not be easy but it is necessary if we are to have even a fighting chance for addressing the needs of 100 million older adults.

Recruiting too…

And to finish, how many people started in long-term care support services as volunteers? I haven’t found any research exploring this question but after 25 years, my guess would be a majority of them. I’m one of them. So, in addition to meeting the needs of older adults wherever they may be living, volunteer programs become a great recruiting tool as well.

As for the “nay-sayers,” my attitude is that there is always going to be that cohort of negative people telling us it can’t be done. I know, they told me that for 25 years. I recruited and trained over 700 volunteers for nursing homes in the meanwhile. 

Your comments are welcome…

I welcome your comments and I would encourage you to read my book, “Creating a Volun-Cheer Force” If you’re looking for a keynote speaker or workshop presentation addressing volunteering, working with older adults or the aging well, please contact me.

Professional Staff, Families and… Volunteers!

While researching this article, I came across the blog “The Voice of Volunteering,”[1] launched at the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) 15th World Congress in Madrid in May 2017. Moreover, while their focus is on volunteerism in the hospice and palliative care settings, in my opinion, it is more than relevant to the world of long-term care support systems (LTSS) in the United States. The EAPC Madrid Charter has three key aims:

  • Promote the successful development of volunteering for the benefit of patients, families, and the wider hospice and palliative care community.
  • Recognize volunteering as a third resource alongside professional care and family care, with its own identity, position and value.
  • Promote research and best practice models in the recruitment, management, support, integration, training, and resourcing of volunteers.

For this article, I would like to focus on:

  “Recognizing volunteering as a third resource alongside professional care and family care, with its own identity, position, and value.”

While there is ample anecdotal evidence that supports the expansion of volunteer programs in long-term care, good stories are not enough to turn the heads of owners and operators. What is sorely needed is quantitative evidence that shows that volunteer programs managed by a person trained in volunteer management is achievable, justifiable and efficacious in meeting the psycho-social needs of the people living in long-term care communities (Candy, 2015).

With that said, most recently, I, along with colleagues, with a grant from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, College of Public Affairs and Community Service (CPACS) completed a study of 52 nursing home volunteer programs.

The study revealed that nursing homes that promoted volunteers engaging residents in personalized, individualized activities such as grooming, and meal assistance, for example, were also reporting fewer urinary tract infections (UTI’s) and less use of psychotropic drugs.

While this was a small study, it is a step towards providing hard numbers to the impact volunteers can have on outcomes. I am pursuing similar studies.


When we talk about volunteers as a resource with their own identity, what are the ingredients of their identity? For starters, the volunteers are there because they want to be there. They have come to the nursing home without expecting remuneration for their presence or the work they perform.

Volunteers have come of their free-will ready to serve in some capacity that they may prefer or are offered by the professional staff. They bring skills, work experiences, life experiences, and most importantly, a willingness to be open to the people they serve.

Volunteers have a unique role in the long-term care community.

Volunteers are confidants. There is evidence that the people in nursing homes are more likely to confide in a volunteer with whom they have nurtured a relationship (Claxton-Oldfield, 2015).

These relationships take time to develop, and that is precisely the commodity that volunteers bring with them to the nursing home where they offer their gift of time freely to the people they engage. The volunteer’s relationship with the residents is different from that of the professional staff in that the volunteer is relating to the person not as a “professional” but as an “everyday” someone “grounded in the everyday interpersonal experiences of nonprofessionals” (Brazil & Thomas, 1995, p. 42).

 Volunteers are compassionate and caring people, esteeming those that they encounter.

Claxton-Oldfield, 2015


They are people that can and desire to learn new skills. They are looking for “meaningful” ways to engage the residents. Volunteers, well-screened, and trained beyond the initial orientation play a critical role in providing “independent” emotional support (Candy, 2015). The residents, because of this vital support, feel more in control and experience positive emotional well-being. The resident enjoys not only improved psycho-social health but physical health as well (Horey et al., 2015).

Claxton-Oldfield (2011) and his wife, visiting three different hospice providers discovered volunteer programs that offered as many as twenty volunteer positions, to include: administrative duties, bereavement counseling, drivers, gardeners, receptionists, support group facilitators, kitchen support and tour guides to name just a few. While this is in the environment of a hospice, I believe that all these positions and more are transferable to the nursing home environment.

Volunteers have the “luxury of time.”

Volunteers are in a position to learn from the staff and to provide valuable, and much needed support for the successful operation of a nursing home. Families report that they appreciate having someone to talk with other than the “staff.”

‘And I think, for [my husband], the fact of having somebody from outside, not just staff, is important. I think the staff that deal with you all the time, there is some humiliation in your situation that staff has to deal with at another level, his physical needs, so this is strictly someone to talk and be a friendly face, a kind face.”  (Weeks et al., 2008)

Also, volunteers may act as a mediator when relationships are strained. Alternatively, the volunteer offers comfort to the family, knowing that a well trained and qualified “friend” is with their loved-one when they cannot be there themselves (Claxton-Oldfield, 2015).

In my opinion, a well-run nursing home includes a fully integrated team made up of professional staff, families, and volunteers, each with their own identity, position and value.


How do you measure and calculate the value of a volunteer’s impact on the professional staff, the families of your residents, the residents under your care, the community in which you live and operate? What is the return on your investment?

The brand of volunteer program that I promote requires serious investment and not just monetary. It requires a sincere commitment on the part of leadership to create a culture that embraces the volunteer, elevates the volunteer manager as equal and indispensable position working with leadership to discover and address the individual needs of the residents,

“…to ensure that residents of nursing homes receive quality care that will result in their achieving or maintaining their highest practicable physical, mental, and psycho-social well-being.”

The starting point is pulling your staff together and developing a philosophy statement concerning volunteers and moving on to engage the staff in outlining areas where volunteers could be trained to provide support, not to replace paid staff but to compliment them.

Volunteers elevate a person’s sense of well-being.

With a well-supported and robust volunteer program starting with leadership, I contend that the return on your investment will show up in your higher star rating due to less use of drugs, fewer falls, fewer UTI’s for starters.

The return on your investment will show up in better retention rates as staff will feel valued and supported not only from within your organization but from the community in which you operate. Your volunteers become an ambassador to the community.

They become recruiters not only for your volunteer program but for new workers. I know this personally, I started as a volunteer. How many of you started as a volunteer?

While it is not easy converting to dollars, the value of a smile, a warm hug, an agitated resident, now calmed not with drugs but with personalized attention, a staff person weary but pressing-on feeling like they have real and valuable support, and a community that embraces you and understands the challenges you face, it can be done, and there are nursing homes doing this.

Their impact reports reflect both the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the volunteer force, and they are remarkable!

Professional staff, families and yes, volunteers, each with their identity, position and value, all coming together to form a cohesive team for people who need professional help, the hug of a loved one, and the listening ear of a volunteer.

Reach Out…

                I would love to have the opportunity to speak to your group or lead a workshop where I can share in detail how this can happen for your long-term care community. Feel free to contact me at paul@voluncheerleader.com  for details.


Brazil K, & Thomas D. (1995) The role of volunteers in a hospital-based palliative care service. J Palliat Care, 11(3) 40-42.

Candy, B., France, R., Low, J., & Sampson, L. (2015). Does involving volunteers in the provision of palliative care make a difference to patient and family wellbeing? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative evidence. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 52(3), 756–768. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.08.007

Claxton-Oldfield, S. (2015). Got volunteers? The selection, training, roles, and impact of hospice palliative care volunteers in Canada’s community-based volunteer programs. Home Health Care Management and Practice, 27(1), 36–40. https://doi.org/10.1177/1084822314535089

Help the Hospices, (2012). Volunteers: vital to the future of hospice care. A working paper of the Commission into the future of Hospice Care. http://www.helpthehospices.org.uk/our-services/commission/resources/?cord=DESC (accessed 20.01.14).

Horey, D., Street, A. F., O’Connor, M., Peters, L., & Lee, S. F. (2015). Training and supportive programs for palliative care volunteers in community settings. Cochrane Database of

Mackay, M., Bluck, S. (2010) Meaning-making in memories: a comparison of memories of death-related and low point life experiences. Death Studies 2010;34(8):715–37.

Weeks, L.E., MacQuarrie, C., Bryanton, O., (2008). Hospice palliative care volunteers: a unique care link. J. Palliat. Care 24, 85–93.

[1]European Association for Palliative Care (September 19, 2018). “The voice of volunteering – supporting and learning from the EAPC Madrid charter on volunteering in hospice and palliative care.” Retrieved from: https://eapcnet.wordpress.com/2018/09/19/the-voice-of-volunteering-supporting-and-learning-from-the-eapc-madrid-charter-on-volunteering-in-hospice-and-palliative-care/ July 10, 2019

The Power of Aloha

Discovering the word for compassion in Hawaiian tradition…

I’ve written a few articles on compassion, and so for this one, I decided to do something a little different. I began by pulling up the word compassion on the internet to see what would pop up. My search produced a window with the definition of compassion, and then a “translate ‘compassion’ to” another language box appeared.

I started translating compassion into various languages starting with Afrikaans “medelye,” to Albanian “dhembshuri,” to German “barmherzigkeit,” Haitian Creole “konpasyon,” and then Hawaiian “aloha.” I stopped there because I was always under the impression that the expression “aloha” was an Hawaiian greeting and further research shows that indeed it is. But, I went on to discover that “aloha” means so much more.

Aloha has a deep cultural and spiritual significance…

            As it turns out “aloha” has several meanings to include: love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. But to native Hawaiians it has a “deeper cultural and spiritual significance.” To them it also means “to be in the presence of divinity or in the presence of (alo) the “divine breath of life” (Ha). Discovering the phrase “…the power of Aloha…” really piqued my curiosity.

When I searched that phrase, I found “The Power of Aloha: The Hawaiian Guide to Love, Health, and Wealth” by Kala H. Kos and John Selby.  With that, I accomplished what I was hoping to gain, i.e., a new insight into the word compassion.

“…the joyful sharing of life in the present moment…”

            Kos and Shelby present the traditional meaning of “aloha” as“the joyful sharing of life in the present moment.”  Reading that, brought to mind how many times I’ve spoken to groups about living in the present or practicing the art of presence. I don’t know if I could think of a better or more accurate way to describe the exchange that takes place between the visiting volunteer and the nursing home resident.

“…our hearts are singing together…”

Going even deeper, the meaning of “aloha” includes “our hearts are singing together.”  Thinking of the relationships and shared experiences that I have had over the years with the people living in nursing homes, I believe this phrase accurately describes what we felt in those moments. Our hearts were singing together.

“…to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life…”

Moreover, the richness of “aloha” does not end there. The root “ha” means “breath of life.” And so the meaning of “aloha” expands even further to mean: “…to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life.” Compassion, “aloha” is to be joyful together and filled with the breath of life. I’m pretty sure this has an impact on a nursing home’s star rating. Aloha.

Contact me for more information about how you, as a volunteer can become the “the breath of life” to someone living in a nursing home – or –

If you manage a nursing home volunteer program and want to explore this further, contact me to learn how I can be of help to you. Please e-mail me at paul@voluncheerleader.com

Creating a Robust Volunteer Force: It’s not about free labor

Not surprisingly, one of the first objections I get for promoting and creating robust volunteer programs for long-term care communities is that it appears that I’m supporting the use of free labor. Nothing could be further from my mind! For sure, there are a lot of regulations and laws governing the use of volunteers but that should not deter you from creating and taking full advantage of a strong volunteer force.

Working Partners

For this reason, I’ve made it my mission to identify and highlight nursing home volunteer programs that have successfully created positive and sustaining partnerships between nursing home paid staff and volunteers. In these programs, paid staff and volunteers complement one another rather than compete with each other. The professional staff view and embrace their volunteers as an indispensable component for providing great and personalized care. Rather than seeing the volunteers as free labor to be exploited, the staff welcomes them as their working partners. The volunteer is an integral part of the care team and thus rejecting that “us and them” culture.

Like any great program, great volunteer programs do not happen overnight.  Successful volunteer programs like those that I’ve written about or witnessed first-hand require a careful, sober, well-thought-out, intentional effort guided by professional volunteer managers. The process of creating and sustaining a successful volunteer program involves everyone in the life of the nursing home beginning with the management team, the medical staff, the housekeepers, the dietitians, the social workers, and life enrichment coordinators to name a few.

Labor Laws

 Working with the Department of Labor, unions if they are involved, and other regulatory bodies such as Health and Human Services, in the development of your volunteer program, and the volunteer job descriptions will ensure that duties assigned to the volunteers are not in violation of labor laws and do not give the appearance of replacing staff with free labor. In talking with the Baycrest Health, Director of Volunteers, Janis Sternhill at Baycrest Health in Toronto, during my visit, she said that in 30 years of their volunteer program history, there might have been two or three times when their labor union objected to a job description, but working together they were able to resolve those issues.

 After 25 years of recruiting and training volunteers for nursing homes and witnessing first-hand the impact of outstanding and well-managed nursing home volunteer programs, I am confident in my claim that nursing homeowner/operators would do well to make serious investments in their volunteer programs. Current research shows that when you can discover and address the underlying individual needs and desires of the people under your care, you will likely be providing not only quality care but you will be maximizing their quality of life as well, and that means improving customer satisfaction and positive outcomes for them and for your professional staff.

A “listening ear”

Certainly, there is no doubt that the professional staff must be trained to garner to have this deeper level of insight into their resident’s lives and what matters to them. However, the reality is that time may not be on their side. Recently, while visiting someone in a nursing home, the hallway outside the person’s room I was visiting, was chaotic as call lights were going off, and aides were running about trying to meet everyone’s needs. Discovering underlying needs is one area where volunteers can be very effective. They can be trained to befriend and learn what matters to the person they are visiting. They, the volunteer become the “listening ear,” learning and then if appropriate and respecting confidentiality, relaying what they have learned to the professional staff.

Beyond being present for your people, staff in the exemplary programs were surveyed as to what help a volunteer could be trained to provide, again without violating labor laws and or giving the appearance of exploiting people as free labor. From the programs that I have had the privilege of studying, the director of volunteers give the new volunteer a general orientation and training. The volunteer is then asked as to what department or area of the nursing home they would like to be involved. With that knowledge, the volunteer manager then works with the staff in that area to discover what their needs are and how the volunteer may complement their effort.

Community Support

Finally, the volunteer program is not about free labor, it’s about providing community support, for an often overwhelmed care staff. The volunteer program is about exposing people from the community-at-large to the long-term care community and like me, and many other people for that matter, going on to become more deeply involved. Lastly, the volunteer program broadcasts the message, “We care. We care enough to go the extra mile to make sure that the people in our care have the very best and that includes great volunteers who have the ‘luxury of time’ to give to your loved ones.”

Let me help you!

If you would like to learn more about how I can help you create or enhance your nursing home volunteer program, please contact me. I would love the opportunity to help you.

“What to write about?”

           For the past several months, actually since the first weekend in October, I’ve been experiencing some of the most excruciating pain a back injury can offer, or at least it feels that way. Mary and I love to take walks and on Saturday mornings during the summer and into early fall, we like to walk to the farmer’s market near our home to buy our week’s supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, corn, and jostle and bump our way through the crowds of people on a similar mission.

            On this particular October Saturday morning, I woke refreshed, got dressed, had my cups of coffee, and with my large green reusable cloth bag folded under my arm, headed off to the market with Mary. As we have many times in the past, we filled our bags with healthy goodies and started our trek back to our home. As we approached the not-so-steep hill that leads to our house, I began to feel a gnawing pain in the lower part of my back. The further up the hill we walked, the worse the pain became.

By the time I was at the top of the hill, I could barely walk.

            For the remainder of the walk home, even though it was on level ground, every step I took triggered a sharp pain in my back that was now radiating down my leg. I was able to make it home on my own accord, but by then my back felt as if someone had hit my back with a baseball bat. My leg was cramped and felt as if it was on fire. Confused as to what was happening to me, I wondered how heavy were the bags of vegetables? Yes, they were much lighter than other things I have carried. I concluded that I must have pulled a muscle.

            The long and short of it is, I did not pull a muscle, confirmed by weeks of physical therapy and then finally an MRI. The MRI clearly showed that a synovial cyst had formed in the lumbar region of my back and was pressing, without mercy on the nerves of my spinal column. The images of this offending “alien”triggered visits to the pain management clinic and a consult with a neurosurgeon.

This story is far from over, as I have a long way to go.

             After ten weeks of enduring this pain, the recent transforaminal epidural steroid injection has provided me with some modest relief, while the scheduled surgery to remove the cyst is still several weeks away.  It’s been a long three months. Standing is still very painful, and walking is even more painful. Getting from the couch to the bathroom and back to the sofa is quite an accomplishment for me these days as is any of the other activities of daily living that I need to perform.

          Through this experience, I have learned how to create coping strategies.For example, I have a countdown timer on my phone set first to the date of the epidural injection (now complete) and now set to the time of my surgery. Also, I have forced myself to continue to work, teaching online courses and writing. Fortunately, I work from home. And finally, I have used my sense of humor to lighten the atmosphere to what could be a very dark time for Mary and me. But what has struck me the most is what I am learning as a care-receiver. Not being able to do things for myself at the drop of a hat is a real eye-opener. Becoming dependent is a humbling experience. Mary has been a real saint through this time making sure that I have what I need, in addition to her caring for our home.

          So, today, as I was thinking about what to write, it occurred to me that I would share my experience with you but then go on to ask you to remember the many, many people living in our communities, that are living in nursing homes, that are depending on someone to care for them. And with that said, I would ask you to remember the men and women who are providing that care.

I would ascribe to them the title as I have to Mary, “Saint.”

           Through this holiday season, while many of us will be in our comfortable homes enjoying the company of family and friends, and good food, the people working in nursing homes will be on the job. They will be selflessly caring for people who have little choice but to depend on them for their day-to-day needs. It makes me wonder what that level of dependency feels like and it makes me grateful for the “saints” who are willing to make sure we have what we need.

           If you know someone who works in a nursing home, I will encourage you to thank them for what they do. For just as I went from being independent to being dependent during an ordinary morning’s walk so might that be with you. Who will be there to care for you? And how grateful might you be for their help?

          If you work in a nursing home, then please accept my heartfelt gratitude for caring for our loved ones living in nursing homes and I wish you the very best for the coming year.

Training for Long-Term Care Volunteers Goes Online!

I am thrilled to announce that “Volunteering in Long-Term Communities” volunteer training is now available online!

My experience…

Over the years, I’ve had the extreme pleasure of training hundreds of volunteers in person, but what always lingered in the back of my mind was the question of reaching a wider audience. There are some 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, and many of them cannot afford to hire a dedicated volunteer manager, and if they do have a volunteer manager, it is likely someone splitting their time between activities and managing the volunteers. As a result, training the volunteers may  be limited by time and availability of the “trainer.”

My volunteer management experience taught me early on that managing volunteers is not a part-time job. It requires the volunteer manager to not only work hard to recruit volunteers, but it also includes providing meaningful training so that the volunteer feels prepared and is useful in their role.

Volunteers want training…

Volunteer training does not or should not stop after the initial orientation so providing ongoing training is essential for the volunteer to grow in their position. Research shows that volunteers want ongoing training. And finally, the volunteer manager must work to stabilize the volunteer force by putting processes in place that promote volunteer retention.

While I cannot solve the challenges of funding and time, I can develop volunteer training programs specifically designed for people volunteering in nursing homes and make them accessible to everyone and in their own time.  This makes the online training platform extremely valuable to volunteer managers and well as the volunteers.

From my experience in instructional design and teaching online gerontology courses, I have learned what people are looking for in an online course. Those same principles come into play as I design courses for the long-term care volunteer. The training should be “lean and deep,” meaning that the training material is presented in clear and understandable language using various learning styles and that it should be interactive to keep the “trainee” engaged and moving forward.

Online training…

In this new course, there are eight modules. The first module opens by giving context to the volunteer experience presenting the changes that are taking place in our population, i.e., that the number of people 65 years of age and older is exploding.  I want the volunteer to understand the magnitude of the need and statistics associated with the people they will be meeting.

However, I’m careful not to paint a “doom and gloom” picture as some do. Instead, volunteering is an opportunity for the community to become more deeply involved in the life of the nursing home to not only enhance “person-centered” care but to learn first-hand about career opportunities.

From there, the next module deals with ageism and the negative stereotypes that influence the way we view aging and older adults. For me, this is an exciting topic because by the end of this module the volunteer realizes that living in the nursing home is far more than just a “waiting to die” station but instead there is the opportunity for learning and personal growth.

The remaining modules present the various functions of a nursing home and levels of care, communications both verbal and non-verbal and of course, HIPAA, Resident Rights and most important what “person-centered” care really means and how the volunteer can support staff in the delivery of that level of care.

Next steps…

If you oversee the volunteer program at your nursing home then, please consider taking advantage of this online training by encouraging your current volunteers and new volunteers to take this course. Doing so will give them in-depth insight into the aging process and offer them new ideas for creating personalized activities for the people living in your community.

If you are someone that has been thinking about volunteering in a nursing home, this course will give you a solid foundation from which you can rely on and grow in during your volunteer experience.

There is nothing more damaging to a volunteer program than to launch people into a volunteer experience unprepared. More often than not, the volunteers become discouraged and likely do not return while you end up with a “revolving door” volunteer program.

Volunteers, adequately trained, stay on the job adding real value to your long-term care community. However, they need critical insight and tools for that to happen. The learning platform I’m using is user-friendly and is accessible either on your computer or mobile device. The modules are easy to navigate and follow a logical progression, building on upon the other.

Please share this article with the people you know that would appreciate having this resource available to them.  If you have questions about the training, feel free to contact me and I would be glad to talk to you.


Recognizing the Value of Volunteers

Helping hands

When you think about a volunteer what comes to your mind?

I see someone who is engaged, aware of his or her community needs and committed to helping others.  Not remaining mere spectators, they step up to the plate to contribute their time, skills, and their knowledge to meet those needs.

They have the ability to lend a helping hand without any expectation of payment for their efforts but they will likely walk away from the experience with a deep sense of personal satisfaction of having helped someone.

However, what about the volunteers in a nursing home do they really add anything to the environment or are they just “…another thing to manage?”

Anne Gross wrote one of the earliest articles I could find concerning the value of volunteers.  At the time, she wrote the article “Why Nursing Homes Need Volunteers” in 1961, she was the director of volunteer services at Mt. Zion Hospital and Medical Center in San Francisco.

At the hospital she observed that the obligation of the facility goes beyond just providing shelter, and medical care and extended to providing for the emotional support of the “involuntary patient” (Gross, 1961).

According to Gross, the volunteer can offer something that the care staff cannot offer, i.e., the “luxury of time.” 

Daily activities of living such as deciding for oneself what to wear each day and getting dressed can be transformed into a hectic impersonal routine (Claxton-Oldfield, Gosselin, & Claxton-Oldfield, 2009) when performed by care staff who may be responsible for picking out clothes and dressing several dozen people each morning.

laughing together
“…relational care.”

Conversely, the volunteer has the “time” to talk with the person, asking what they would like to wear, picking out the clothes and then getting dressed.  The nursing home resident’s sense of control is restored and now they have the opportunity to express their personal tastes, likes and dislikes.  This “luxury of time” extends to many aspects of the resident’s daily life in the nursing home.

Volunteer groups such as the “Silver Spoons” (Musson, Frye, & Nash, 1997) showed that volunteers could be trained to feed residents.  For the nursing aide mealtime can mean sitting in the middle of a circular table surrounded by residents that need help with eating.

The experience becomes a mechanical effort for everyone involved in getting the chore completed as quickly as possible in contrast to a volunteer who transforms the chore into a leisurely meal filled with conversation.

These are only two of many examples I could give showing how a volunteer can contribute to the nursing home environment.  However, does the staff recognize the value of a volunteer?

I bring this up because volunteers that have not been trained or have received little training may not be a help to the staff but rather may create more work for the staff.  When this happens the staff become resistant to the presence of volunteers seeing them as “one more thing to manage” (Berta, Laporte, & Kachan, 2010).

Volunteers want training; they enjoy the sense of mastery, i.e., believing they have the skills to provide real help.  The difficulty is of course is that far too often volunteers receive little or no training.  Because of this, staff is likely to have a dim view of the volunteer.

With increasing demands on the long-term care community and their staff, volunteers can play a key role in providing real and valuable help, if they receive quality training.

In addition, staff needs training to recognize the value of the volunteer realizing that the volunteer can complement the care staff by offering “personalized” help in many of the non-medical tasks.

This level of training needs to be emphasized in the long-term care community.  In the end, the nursing home becomes more than just shelter and food; it becomes a place where volunteers working along side professional care staff provide for the needs of the whole person.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic.


Berta, W., Laporte, A., & Kachan, N. (2010). Unpacking the relationship between operational efficiency and quality of care in Ontario long-term care homes. Canadian Journal on Aging, 29(4), 543–556. doi:10.1017/S0714980810000553

Claxton-Oldfield, S., Gosselin, N., & Claxton-Oldfield, J. (2009). Imagine you are dying: would you be interested in having a hospice palliative care volunteer? The American journal of hospice & palliative care, 26(1), 47–51. doi:10.1177/1049909108327026

Gross, A. (1961). Why nursing homes need volunteers. The Modern Hospital, 97(4), 101–103.

Musson, N., Frye, G., & Nash, M. (1997). Silver spoons: Supervised volunteers provide feeding of patients. Geriatric Nursing, 18(1), 18–19.

We’re looking for “co-conspirators!

Paul P. Falkowski PhD
Paul P. Falkowski, PhD

There just isn’t enough exposure for great nursing home volunteer programs. Most communities have their own newsletters or social media outlets, but where can someone go to learn about programs from a wide variety of communities, all in one place.  The answer: “VolunCheerLeader.com”

This blog is created to highlight great programs and I’ve already identified a few of them, but there are many more great programs out there and so I want to hear from you.  If you are a director of volunteers for a long-term care community and you think you have a great program, let me know about your program and I’ll feature you right here just as I have others.  People in the professions of caring for older adults need to hear about your program. It is my hope that they will be encouraged and inspired to create great programs of their own.

Volunteer programs developed and led by professional volunteer managers are crucial to insuring that the psychological and social needs of the people living in long-term care communities are met. In gerontology, we refer to the bio-pyscho-social model, referring to the physical, mental, and social needs of people.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) is placing an increasing emphasis on meeting not only the biological (physical) needs of people but also the psycho-social needs of people living in long-term communities.  Research is showing that the psycho-social needs going unmet leads to increased physical or medical issues that raising the cost of care.

“Super” volunteers that are recruited, screened and properly trained are in the perfect position to meet those two areas of human need. The “super” volunteer plays a critical role in elevating quality of care and most importantly, quality of life of both the people that live and work in long-term care communities.  To date one of the common themes that I hear is:

“At first we were hesitant about allowing volunteers to do more but now we realize we couldn’t do what we are doing without them.” 

Let’s make this our meeting place.  Come to VolunCheerLeader.com to learn, to comment, to present, and most importantly elevate the role of volunteers for long-term communities.