Seventeen-year-old Megan England bounced into the room of Margaret Autio at the Heartland of Brooksville nursing home. The teen turned a broad smile and sparkling eyes on the 92-year-old patient seated in a wheelchair. "Today's my last day of school," Megan announced. "I'm so happy." "What are you going to be?" Autio inquired. Megan leaned forward: "I don't know. What do you think?"
Megan has a gift for drawing into conversation everyone she meets. She especially focuses on hospice patients who tend to be reticent and whose mental health and socialization often requires prompted interaction.
Kit Pollitt, 15, owns a gift for music. On another recent day, she quietly set up her keyboard at the convergence of four hallways at Hernando Hospice House. Patient doors opened along the hall, and workers poked their heads out the kitchen, all eager to hear Kit's rendition of music therapy.
Megan and Kit are part of a corps of some 70 teenagers who volunteer for HPH Hospice in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. Thirty of them serve in Hernando - at Hospice House, the Hospice Care Center, hospice offices, five nursing homes and at special hospice-sponsored events and activities. Thirty-five volunteer in Pasco.
"Hospice goes wherever the patient is," east Hernando team volunteer coordinator Anne Clarke explained. HPH is currently serving some 300 patients in Hernando and about 500 in Pasco.
Megan and Kit have something in common besides their volunteer work. Hospice provided end-of-life care for Megan's grandmother, who died in May 2008, and for Kit's grandfather, who passed away in March 2009.
Said Megan: "I was really impressed with (hospice's) care and wanted to give something back in the way they'd given to me."
When Kit decided on volunteerism, hospice was a natural choice. She's the third generation of her family to work for the agency. Her mother, Traci Pollitt, 46, cooks breakfast once a week at Hospice House. Kit's grandmother, Mildred Lowrey, 76, cleans the kitchen and interacts with patients.
"I thought it would be a good place," said Kit.
Teen volunteers for hospice are offered several opportunities, depending on their age. Those 14 to 16 may perform office tasks such as data entry and filing, tending in the kitchen, or working special projects such as the summer children's grief camp and the holiday Tree of Life fundraiser.
If they wish, 17- and 18-year-olds may interact with patients - at hospice facilities, at nursing homes and in patient homes.
Megan, who chose nursing home service, said, "I'm very social, so I wanted to visit patients. I like going and making a difference."
She said she sometimes offers patients a "listening ear."
In tough assignments, such as a woman who wouldn't eat, Megan cajoled and challenged her; Megan wouldn't take the patient for her favorite outdoor stroll until she ate something.
The teen offered enticements to draw out Autio.
"Have you seen my pink basket?"
The basket contained playing cards, coloring books, games of dominoes and checkers, and jigsaw puzzles.
"Would you like to work a puzzle with me? I have two."
Megan displayed their covers.
Autio first nodded, then said she wanted to go to the cafeteria. In a heartbeat, and with a pleasantry, Megan was at the handles of the patient's wheelchair, pushing Autio to her choice of endeavors.
Of Megan, Clarke, the volunteer leader, said: "I've never seen her sad, never angry."
Back at Hospice House, while Kit was preparing to perform her music, nurse Jeanne Matthews said: "We so enjoy her. It's wonderful to have a young person here."
There were no musical scores positioned above the keyboard; Kit plays from memory. She tries to learn two new pieces a week - "what they would enjoy hearing," she said. Those range from old country tunes to classical pieces, love songs and hymns. The homeschooled student, who has played piano since age 8, accepts requests, and has performed two hours every Tuesday since last August.
"I enjoy it," Kit said. "(The patients) enjoy it, I've heard," she added modestly.
The 10th-grader is piling up community service hours to apply for a Bright Futures scholarship, 75 hours minimum.
Megan, working more than 500 hours at hospice since July 2008, has one of the highest totals ever for volunteerism by a high school student in Hernando County, and she earned the Richard Buckingham Scholarship from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for her community outreach.
She will attend Flagler College in St. Augustine this fall on a full scholarship from the institution and a Bright House scholarship that will help her to purchase books, both awards aided by her volunteerism. She already has earned an associate's degree in liberal arts from Pasco-Hernando Community College. Megan intends to pursue a degree in Latin American studies and pre-law.
Kit, dual enrolled at PHCC, although musically inclined, is thinking of a career in journalism.
Beth Gray can be contacted at email@example.com.
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Interested in helping out?
HPH Hospice sponsors orientation for prospective teen volunteers monthly. The next two-day program in Hernando is scheduled for July 20 and 22 at the Brooksville office, 698 S Broad St. For information, contact hospice volunteer coordinator Anne Clarke at (352) 796-2611. For volunteer opportunities in Pasco, call (727) 863-7971.