GRANVILLE — When Christopher Blackburn became too sick, the musician left his home in Nashville and headed to his mother’s house in Queensbury.
The bone cancer was winning.
As his health declined, his 86-year-old mother couldn’t care for him by herself. And his siblings’ homes weren’t equipped to provide a safe place for his end-of-life journey.
On New Year’s Eve, his sister, Valerie Romleski, and her husband drove him to South Granville to the Haynes House of Hope, a nonprofit comfort care home for the terminally ill.
Blackburn stayed there just over a month, at no cost to him or his family.
He died Feb. 2.
“It couldn’t have been a better experience for my brother,” said Brian Blackburn, who added, “They cared for him in a way that you can imagine that you would want to be cared for.”
Romleski and her husband often slept at the home in one of the spare bedrooms. At one point, the whole family gathered at the Haynes House to put together a puzzle of their late father Loren Blackburn’s artwork.
Romleski brought food and cooked meals for her brother and the volunteers, who staff the home 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“He was cared for,” Romleski said. “It was like family. That’s the whole point. When family can’t be there, they’re like your extended family.”
It was the right place for her brother to pass, Romleski said.
“They’re wonderful,” she said. “I can’t really say enough about the people that work there.”
But the Haynes House of Hope is currently in desperate need of more volunteers. While some of the overnight and weekend staff is paid, the house is run by volunteers, and they don’t have nearly enough.
The Haynes House will train anyone who wishes to volunteer. No experience is necessary. They ask for as little as four hours a month. Volunteers do not need to perform medical tasks. High Peaks Hospice works with the facility for medical care.
“Really, the volunteers are the backbone of the house,” said Joanna Prouty, a clinical social worker who has been a volunteer for nearly six years.
The volunteers will do whatever they can to make life — and death — wonderful for their residents. They once invited a bagpiper to play for a resident. They hosted a vow renewal for a man and his wife before he died. They have also helped estranged families mend fences before death.
Volunteer Sue Perry, a retired nurse, said volunteers tend to become part of the family.
“I don’t think we’ve had anybody that didn’t accept us as part of their family, as the volunteers who take care of them,” Perry said.
Prouty held her friend’s hand as she took her last breath and died at the Haynes House. Until then, she didn’t really know what it would be like to watch someone die.
“It turns out that most of the people I’ve been with, who have passed on my shift, for example, pretty much go to sleep,” she said. “And that’s our goal, it’s peaceful, they’re comfortable, they’re pain-free.”
Volunteer shifts vary and hours are flexible. Filling a four-hour shift at the house is the equivalent of making a $500 contribution.
Haynes House also needs volunteers for other jobs like lawn care, snowplowing, weeding flower beds and fundraising. School-age kids are welcome to volunteer to gain community service hours.
The house relies exclusively on volunteer labor and financial contributions.
Donations, which are tax deductible, go directly to support the mission of the house. Checks can be made out to Haynes House of Hope, 7187 state Route 149, Granville, NY 12832.
To learn more about volunteering, call Executive Director Amanda Parker at 518-642-8155.
Right now, the Haynes House has almost 20 volunteers and nine paid staff. Those interested in volunteering can shadow a volunteer first, Parker said.
“They’re very concerned about death and dying. Obviously that happens, because of the nature of what we do,” Parker said. “But the majority isn’t about that. It’s about giving them the best quality of life that they can have before that time happens.”
The volunteers get attached to the residents at the Haynes House, Prouty said.
Just before Blackburn died, Prouty sat and held his hand.
“I feel so good about what I was able to do,” she said. “He gave me a gift, much more than I probably gave him.”
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