The Luther Acres Volunteer Program Offers Comfort During End-of-Life Journey

clasping hands

At Luther Acres, a group of dedicated volunteers provides a steady, reassuring presence to campus residents as they near their final hours of life.

Nearly 50 Luther Acres residents and team members are part of the No Resident Dies Alone program, which was launched at our Lititz community two years ago. The trained volunteers are called upon by the nursing staff to provide caring companionship to a resident nearing end of life who may not have family or friends locally, or their family is traveling to be by their side, or their spouse needs to rest. Sometimes, the family needs help during the overnight hours.

The program is resident-driven and was initiated by Mary Ann Herr, who has lived at Luther Acres since 2013. She was looking for a volunteer opportunity she could devote some time to and learned about No Resident Dies Alone, similar to the nationwide volunteer program No One Dies Alone, which offers ministry to hospital patients.

 “We are just a peaceful, caring presence,” says Mary Ann. “We take our cues from the nurses, who know the residents well. We have the availability of music, prayers and scriptures of different faith traditions. We honor everyone’s lifestyles and wishes.”

Volunteers, known as Caring Companions, can be residents or staff volunteers who have been interviewed and have completed training by Hospice & Community Care – Lancaster. Training sessions are generally held in the spring and fall, and monthly meetings offer continuing education and support. Referrals for the program come through the Luther Acres nursing team, social workers or our chaplain. Caring Companions rotate through two-hour shifts and are called upon to keep vigil in the last 24-48 hours of a resident’s end-of-life journey.

“Confidentiality is a big part of our program and of our training,” says Mary Ann. “We want people to be able to trust us; the end-of-life journey is a very sacred time.”

During the last two years, 46 volunteers have served at 30 vigils for a total of 621 hours.

“Our Caring Companions have been humbled and blessed to be part of these journeys, and we thank our residents for trusting us with this very important privilege,” Mary Ann says.

The program has brought peace of mind to many grateful families, who have written thank-you notes and expressed their appreciation to the volunteers.

“The compassion, comfort and peace that the volunteers bring to our residents is truly amazing and life-honoring,” says Christie Kennedy, the Administrator of Luther Acres Healthcare Center. “The volunteers have been a great support to our Healthcare Center staff as we, too, grieve the loss of a resident who has become like family to us.”