For Karen Lentz, volunteering at Gulfside Hospice began with her husband’s fondness for craft beer.
About a year after relocating to Port Richey from Wisconsin, Karen and her husband, Mike, attended the 2018 Spring Brewfest for Hospice benefiting Gulfside. While enjoying the beer and activities, Karen met volunteers and staff working the event, and learned that new volunteers are always welcome in a variety of ways to help Pasco’s largest hospice organization.
“At Brewfest I found everyone to be so warm, and felt their passion was so genuine, that I wanted to learn how I could get involved, too,” said Lentz. She was invited to attend Women For Gulfside, a group of 70 women of all ages who work together to raise money for the nonprofit.
“As a newcomer to the area, volunteering at Gulfside has opened so many doors for me,” said Lentz. “Through Women For Gulfside, I have met some fabulous people, made many great friends and found an organization where my volunteerism truly makes a difference.”
Gulfside Hospice is celebrating people like Lentz during National Volunteer Week, which is April 18-24. “Every individual and family who is supported by Gulfside Hospice is touched by our volunteers,” said Kirsty Churchill, director of public relations for the organization. “The mission of hospice could not be accomplished without our volunteers.”
National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 by the Points of Light organization to “shine a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve, recognizing and thanking volunteers who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in their communities.”
Volunteer appreciation and recognition is especially important now, following a year of COVID restrictions that greatly limited volunteer activities, with the end result of fewer people volunteering because of health and safety concerns.
“For those who are able, there are so many ways to volunteer at Gulfside Hospice — from working in our thrift shops, to providing administrative assistance, to making handcrafted gifts and cards, and providing respite care to give caregivers time to get a haircut or go shopping,” said Churchill. “You can volunteer just a few hours a month, or as many as you want.”
“I cannot tell you how personally rewarding it is for me to spend time with hospice patients and their families,” said Karen. “People ask me all the time how I can do this, and remark how difficult it must be. But the truth is I get so much more back in return, that I am the one benefiting the most. I truly feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to do this.”
Before moving to Florida, Lentz was rapidly climbing the corporate ladder in information technology for a health care/insurance company. The work was intense, and it was not unusual for her to work 16 hours a day.
“I was surprised to discover that after achieving my professional milestones, that I still felt unfulfilled and was struggling with how I wanted to live my life. Being a success at my job did not give me a sense of purpose, and I began to look for other things I could focus on that were more rewarding and would make me happy.”
Looking back on her life, Lentz reflected that the job she loved the most went back to junior high when she worked as a nurse’s aide working with Alzheimer patients. “These were patients in the final stages of their lives, and I loved working with them.”
Realizing that what she loved best was completely different than her career path, Lentz reached out to hospice organizations in Wisconsin, signed up for training and became a volunteer.
Lentz eventually left her corporate job and set up a consulting business from home, which gave her more time to volunteer and explore relocating to Florida. After touring the state for a new place to call home, the Lentzes fell in love with New Port Richey and soon after they moved, Lentz made contact with Gulfside Hospice at the Brewfest.
While many people become involved with hospice after a family member receives services to assist them through the final stages of life, others, like Lentz, do not have a personal hospice experience and become involved because they want to volunteer with a group that makes such a significant difference in their community.
“One of the things I really like about raising money for Gulfside is that we know where the money goes and know that it is always accounted for,” said Lentz. “In fact, Women For Gulfside gets to determine where the money we raise through our philanthropy is spent, and that means so much to our group.”
Gulfside Hospice always welcome new volunteers, and there are many ways to get involved. To learn more, contact the volunteer team at 727-845-5707, or visit Gulfside.org/volunteer-with-gulfside.
Published April 21, 2021