Cornerstone Hospice Seeks Walking Angels

Published October 23, 2011

By Kyle Kennedy of The Ledger, Lakeland, Florida


Training is intense and thorough so volunteers are well-prepared.


Sherry Desimone, left, and Sharon Von Minden, both volunteer specialists with Cornerstone Hospice, teach the Cornerstone Hospice volunteer training last week at Lake Gibson Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland, Florida.


On a recent Tuesday morning, Sherry DiSimone looked over the handful of people gathered in a back room at Lake Gibson Church of the Nazarene.  DiSimone, a volunteer specialist for Cornerstone Hospice, was there to lead the first of four days of training for a new group of volunteer hopefuls.  Just five people showed up.  "We have more patients than we do volunteers and the need is so significant," she said during a break.


Non profit Cornerstone covers Polk and six other counties in Central Florida, providing a host of services that includes visiting terminally ill patients at their homes or care facilities.  One of the things they tell you early during volunteer training is that you don't have to be directly involved with patients - there is also a need for people who can do office or community relations work, but some of the hopefuls at the Church say they have come there specifically to learn how to connect with people who don't have much time.


"These people are in their final stage," said Jinho Hwang, 45, a Lakeland resident preparing to enter seminary school.  "For me, it was like, this is the most beautiful time to spend with somebody, at a time when they're needing the most."  Hwang said he believes working with Hospice patients will make him a better pastor some day.


Marva Fuhriman, a recent Lakeland transplant form Oregon, signed up for volunteer training with her husband, Tom.  A former teacher now studying to be a social worker, Fuhriman said she turned to Cornerstone to try something new and fulfilling.  "Working with people who know where they are and know that they are up to the wall and helping them see that wall is not black, it is just something you have to go through,"  Fuhriman said.


Some of Cornerstone's veteran volunteers say it has been rewarding in ways beyond what they ever experienced in their professional lives.  Barbara Kelly, 80, is a former registered nurse and Cornerstone volunteer visiting three female patients in an assisted living facility, suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's disease.  "When I retired I just decided it was time to give back a bit," Kelly said.


Jeff Vost, 69, a Cornerstone volunteer for the past four years, said he is delighted when he meets a patient with similar interests.  He currently visits a man in a wheelchair who is a fellow Navy veteran.  Vost said the man often likes to get out of the house and get something to eat.  "People in Hospice, what they need is somebody to listen to them, somebody to care about them," he said.  "They look forward to that.  They can't wait for you to come, and sometimes they hate to see you leave."


Becoming a Hospice volunteer is a 16-hour process, with training usually broken up over two or four days, DiSimone said.  The training has be thorough, she said, so volunteers are well-prepared for what they will encounter helping patients during a critical time in their lives.  DiSimone has a nickname for the people who choose to donate their time to do this kind of work.  "I call them 'walking angels,' because they're the upper crust of volunteers," she said.


Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, a not-for-profit community-based healthcare organization, has provided care and services since 1984 to central Florida patients and families experiencing life-limiting illnesses. To learn more, call (352) 343-1341 or toll-free (888) 728-6234 or visit