Having moved 37 times in 65 years, Jill Blunt discovered that, by volunteering, she could connect with a new community and new neighbors. As a young girl, Jill watched her mother volunteer, so giving back is in her blood.
Even before she signed up with Jewish Collaborative Services’ Partners in Care program, Jill started a volunteer-driven lunch program at her daughters’ school, which had no lunch service, and launched a “treasure chest” at the Harwich, MA, dump, where people could retrieve and take home usable discarded items.
And, Jill is proof-positive that AmeriCorps – which provides volunteers with an annual stipend – welcomes adults of nearly every age and not only college-age individuals. When she expressed a desire to volunteer in Rhode Island, her friend and neighbor, Elaine Farber Budish (initially a member of the Jewish Family Service board and now on the JCS board), connected her to Jessica Murphy, who, at the time, was coordinator of the Partners in Care program, which requires volunteers to undergo AmeriCorps’ 20+ hours of training.
Of AmeriCorps, Jill says, “Kids will see me wearing my AmeriCorps jacket and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I want to join, too.’ I tell them, ‘You absolutely should do it. It is worth it.’” Jill found the training enjoyable, as she appreciated learning about dementia and the other aspects of working with elders that she learned during the training.
For three years (four terms of service with AmeriCorps), Jill spent time with two different families, visiting them three times per week for a few hours each visit. Living alone at age 96, Leonard (whose name is changed to protect his identity) was lonely and welcomed Jill’s company. “I’d sew buttons on his clothes, take him to the grocery store and just sit and talk with Leonard. He’d tell me stories about his experiences in the Philippines during World War II,” says Jill. “We had a fabulous relationship.” Leonard’s son felt he should be in a retirement home, where, due to Covid-19, no one could visit him. Once her service with AmeriCorps ended, Jill stayed in touch with Leonard and especially made a special call when he turned 100 in August to wish him a happy birthday.
During this same time, Jill also grew close to another family – David, Joan, and their adult son, Thomas (all names have been changed to protect their identities). At 91, David had severely limited mobility, and Joan, then 71, had dementia. Jill explains, “Joan and I became such good friends. I loved her so much. She died from complications of her dementia on Aug. 4, 2020.” During Joan’s last two weeks of life, Jill continued to visit her, and, even now, visits her gravesite to talk to her.
When Joan was in the hospital, Jill made sure that everyone – all the nurses and aides, etc. – knew what Joan needed and what was going on. “I was very adamant about taking care of her.” Jill considered Joan, David, and Thomas like family, and she continues to call David.
Covid-19 related restrictions made everything harder. “I’d drive by to visit Joan and David knowing I couldn’t go in; I can’t even describe how hard it was,” she says. “Joan was my best friend; she had the best smile.” Jill is so grateful to have a copy of the video that JCS made of Jill, David, and Joan to describe the Partners in Care program about a year ago. “I look at that video all the time – of Joan smiling at me in the video.”
While some people consider holidays as days off from work or volunteering, that’s not the case for Jill. “Especially if someone’s alone, it’s the most important thing to visit on a holiday. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter… I went and never took a day off (except due to Covid-19),” she says. “It means so much to them for me to be there!”
“Giving back is very rewarding,” says Jill. As her AmeriCorps term is completed, she can no longer continue as a Partners in Care AmeriCorps volunteer. Nevertheless, she hopes to continue volunteering with JCS – perhaps at the Food Pantry – but only after her fifth grandchild is born and she has helped her daughter get settled with her own daughter and new baby!
Calling it an honor to have helped Joan in her final days, Jill was also touched to have received an achievement award from Jessica in September. The achievement award commends Jill for her dedication and compassion throughout her four terms of service with JCS and AmeriCorps. Jill is JCS’ only volunteer to have finished the allotted number of service terms that AmeriCorps allows.
Jessica adds, “There are not enough words to express how thankful I am to have had Jill on JCS’ volunteer team. She always went above and beyond for the families she volunteered with. Jill demonstrated everything we want the Partners in Care program and its volunteers to be…supporting and engaging caregivers in our community, a listening ear, and being a reliable person to the care recipient and caregiver. I am so very grateful for Jill and I know the families she volunteered with feel the same way. Jill has made such a difference in their lives, it is insurmountable.”
So enthusiastic about the Partners in Care program, Jill doesn’t wait for people to ask about her experiences – she encourages everyone she meets to get involved and volunteer. “Volunteering is good for your heart and your soul. It reminds us that other people need help, and we should be out there helping them.”
For more information about volunteering with JCS contact Dori Adler at 401.331.1244 or Dori@jfsri.org