April 20, 2022
National Volunteer Week - Meet EveryStep Volunteer Barb Fatino
April 17 to 23 is National Volunteer Week. At EveryStep, hundreds of volunteers play a vital role in the organization's ability to live out its mission. Simply put, without our dedicated volunteers, EveryStep would not be able to provide care and support to thousands of patients, clients, families and our own staff every year.
Barb Fatino has been an EveryStep volunteer for 10 years, mostly at EveryStep Hospice’s Kavanagh House hospice home in Des Moines, but also at nursing homes and a private home. “Many times, the patient is asleep so I do my best to put on my ‘quiet presence’ and read a book. If awake and willing, we chat. I have learned if you ask questions and listen, dying people like to talk — I have heard countless stories about grandkids, vacation destinations, favorite foods and even stories about lost loves.”
With a scientifically minded mortician father and a spiritual, God-loving mother, Barb says the combination of science and faith meant death was not a taboo subject in their home. “I was given the best role models. I witnessed them giving back to the church and to their community, always with joy,” says Barb. “I feel my gift of service has come naturally.”
Barb says people often don’t understand hospice or why she enjoys being a hospice volunteer. “You get many reactions from folks when you tell them you do this — everything from ‘What??? How do you do that??’ to ‘Oh, that is so sad.’ But that gives me the opportunity to educate them about the importance and the value of hospice, and tell them why I’m passionate about it. Plus, I give them a gentle reminder that their own death is inevitable, and then smile as I throw this at them — ‘better face it, we aren’t getting out of here alive!’”
When asked what she personally gains from volunteering with EveryStep, Barb created her own list.
- Fills my heart and soul to help someone.
- Helps me face my own fear of death and dying.
- Opportunity to meet others — this includes both patients and the EveryStep staff.
- Challenges me every time I volunteer — what will I talk about? How will they be feeling? Will they laugh? Cry? Will they remember my name? Will I say something that will trigger anger? A lot of these thoughts go through my mind on my 5-minute drive to get there.
- The company I work for offers a cash reward every year to a specific agency if we volunteer a specific amount of hours. Glad I can give back this way, too.
- After a hectic day of meetings, deadlines and unnecessary stress, I find that sitting in a small room with a patient gives me a gentle and sometimes much needed reminder of what I should be focused on and grateful for in my life.
Barb describes herself as a 57-year-old that plays the typical roles of wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend, as well as proud parent of two tuxedoed cats. “I have worked for the same company for 34 years, designing opportunity mail and thankfully to COVID, am doing my job from home now,” says Barb. “We are empty nesters with way too much time on our hands and we often spend it by ordering take-out and watching Netflix.” Barb loves to read and has a lengthy list of books she wants to finish. A few things that bring Barb small joys? “Reece’s Fast Break candy bars, a good belly laugh and a colorful sunrise. A few things that I could live without? Most meat, arrogant people and politics.”
Of all the memories she has made as an EveryStep Hospice volunteer, she thinks her most special ones were with her very first patient. “I was so nervous that first night. Sure, the training gave me the tools, the facts, the dos and don’ts, but I was walking into a small room with a dying person I had never met,” remembers Barb. “I was blessed with an older gal that had sass and spunk. We hit it off instantly. So many conversations for six months, many times — both of us ex-smokers — pretending to be holding our cigarettes, as we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Towards the end of her life, I would go on Saturdays and if it was sunny, I would take her out for a wheelchair ride in the parking lot. Each time when we would finish, she would turn around and say to me ‘Thank you for taking me to California and back.’ Yep, special memories.”
EveryStep has a variety of volunteer needs across Iowa. If you are interested in volunteering with EveryStep, visit https://www.everystep.org/volunteer.
If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at www.everystep.org/find-care. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.