Warm greetings met Broderick Hirai, 20, as he walked down the halls of a North Side nursing home last week. Nurses smiled. Residents reached for his hand.
When he entered Bob Inkpen’s room, the 94-year-old’s face creased with a broad grin.
“Hey, Bob. How are you today?” Hirai asked.
The Whitworth junior looks like what he is – a defensive lineman for the Pirates football team. But his voice is as gentle as his touch when he takes Inkpen’s hand.
Hirai is a hospice volunteer. Each week he visits Inkpen. “We sit in his room and talk sports,” he said. “If there’s a ballgame on, we turn on the TV and watch it. I usually stay around two hours.”
Dave McDougall, volunteer manager for Hospice of Spokane, said, “Volunteers are the heart of Hospice. Sixty-five percent or more have had a loss in their life – they understand loss. The average volunteer is retired, but we also have young volunteers.”
A friend suggested Hospice to Hirai, who plans to attend medical school after graduation. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he said. “Bob is a great guy. He tells me great stories. Every week he asks me if I have a girlfriend yet.”
During this recent visit Inkpen’s mind was on the Kentucky Derby. “I didn’t know you were in the horse game,” he teased Hirai.
“I’m not,” the young man replied. “I’m more of a sailor.” Hirai pointed to a photo of Inkpen’s sailboat, perched on a nearby shelf.
Like Hirai, Inkpen played football. “I played right guard for the University of Alberta,” Inkpen said. “If anyone was standing, you knocked ’em down.”
He turned to Hirai. “When’s your first game?”
Hirai grinned. “Not until September, so we’ve got a few months to go.”
When asked about his relationship with Hirai, Inkpen said, “When we met we just kind of had a spark. He’s been tremendously loyal. He comes around and visits with me.”
Spending time with clients is just one service volunteers offer. McDougall said, “Some volunteers do light housework, some mow lawns, some offer respite care or walk dogs.”
Volunteers undergo 24 hours of training broken into several sessions. After training they discuss their interests and areas where they’d like to serve.
Davis Matieu, 18, a senior at Lewis and Clark High School, began volunteering in the fall. He said, “I was a little uncomfortable at first but my whole perspective changed after training.”
Matieu has served in a variety of ways at Hospice House, from helping the nurses to sitting with patients. “It’s been really meaningful,” he said. “I’m not scared of death anymore – it’s just a new chapter of life.”
Monica Netzel, 17, is a newer volunteer. The St. Michael’s student said, “I just wanted to give back to the community.”
Each week she visits a client in a nursing home, and she cleans house for a client every other week. “It takes a certain kind of person to be around people who are dying,” she said. “It can be emotional. But it really builds character and compassion. You’re coming out of yourself and offering yourself to others.”
Hirai agreed. “It’s been a great experience,” he said. He got behind Inkpen’s wheelchair and escorted him to the dining room. After opening a milk carton, he carefully poured it into Inkpen’s cup.
“Sometimes we just sit in silence,” he said. “That’s OK, too.”
McDougall expressed gratitude for those who currently serve with Hospice. “We have need of volunteers in all areas of Spokane County – especially up north,” he said. “There would be no hospice service without our volunteers.”