Gerke finds satisfaction, fulfillment volunteering with CHHC

Patty Gerke has been volunteering with Caring Hearts and Hands since the beginning. She’s a core volunteer who has always helped with training and orienting people. Let’s take a moment to get to know Patty!

How did you get involved with CHHC?

I worked at Boone hospital in the late 80s and early 90s. And I guess somehow my path crossed with Doreen and Jackie. And then a couple years ago, Doreen reached out to me on Facebook, and then she wanted to meet for lunch. So we met for lunch. She told me about the organization, and I was very excited about it. It sounds like something I’d want to be involved with. She wanted me to be on a committee or a board, and I’m like, no, I don’t really want to do that. So when it came closer to time for them to open, she reconnected and I agreed to be a caregiver, took the caregiver training, and it’s been a big part of my life ever since.

It came at a good time in my life. I’m a seven-year breast cancer survivor and had a lot of complications after treatment, so I had to put my profession as a registered nurse on hold. When I was starting to feel like myself again, I needed to be able to give back. I’ve never worked that much with palliative care. I did work when I first got out of nursing school in the mid 90s at a small hospital in Booneville, and we had some hospice patients there, and both of my parents died of cancer and, for the most part, had a pretty peaceful death. So I’ve always been passionate that it’s the gift that we can give others to let them die in peace and dignity. And that’s the model that I tried to to do there when I’m a caregiver, and, of course, to help the families, too, so the families can understand the dying process and how they can help their loved one. So I’m usually there twice a week. That’s kind of how I got started.

What experiences outside of CHHC help your work there?

Not really just, you know, my nursing background and having two parents that passed away from cancer. I also took care of a friend the last three weeks of her life. She was 50 when she passed away from kidney cancer. I feel like it’s a gift. I feel like I definitely get more than what I give.

It’s really neat to get to know the guests and their family members. That’s not always possible, but I always talk to them like they know what’s going on, like they’re alert. I’m not afraid of touching. I’m a big believer in, when you’re talking to somebody, to sit there and hold their hands and be patient and be willing to have them open up to you. I get a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment getting to talk to them and knowing how we’re going to help them pass peacefully, and knowing that they won’t be alone, that we’ll keep them as comfortable as possible and keep their family involved.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of volunteering here?

Getting to know the guests, and, like I said, letting them die with peace and dignity. And of course, working with the other volunteers. I feel like we were hand picked, especially the first four volunteers. It just seems like if there’s a need, the community has been so supportive. Or past family members, have you said, What do you need? So seeing the families being so grateful for our services, and seeing the relief as the caregiving and the stress is taken away from them.

What draws you to CHHC’s mission?

The minute families walk in to tour, it’s like they automatically feel relaxed. The environment of the house is so peaceful and calming. And you know, to see them come in and feel like the weight of the world has been taken off of them, and they know that their family is going to be okay here. And then the guests too. I mean, we’ve had several guests that, as soon as they got in their room, their disposition totally changed, especially when they most people do know why they’re coming, which, when you think about it, that’s a big deal. You know you walk in, come in the door, and you know that this is going to be your last stop. So being able to provide that comfortable, peaceful, as painless as possible an environment.

What about you? What do you like to do for fun?

I have four daughters, one in Wichita, one in Texas, and then I have two daughters in Boonville and three grandkids. So spending time with my grandkids. I walk a lot. I enjoy yoga. My happy place is the beach. So I’ve been traveling a lot. So, traveling, spending time with family, being outdoors.

Thank you, Patty, for all that you do!