For Deborah Smalls Fowler, the decision to become a hospice volunteer was a personal one.
When both her mother and brother were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 13 years apart, they both spent time in hospice care before they died. Fowler remembered how the hospice nurses would change her mother’s bandages as well as read and pray with her.
Now, Fowler provides the same comfort to patients and their families as a volunteer with Duke HomeCare & Hospice in Durham. When she’s not working as an administrative assistant in Duke Regional Hospital Pathology/Clinical Labs, she is answering the phones or providing directions as a Duke HomeCare & Hospice receptionist ambassador, listening to patients’ childhood stories and learning about their hobbies, and comforting family members. She also visits with patients in their homes, allowing caregivers the time to go out to dinner or complete errands.
“Sometimes when families come in, I’m the first person they see,” Fowler said about volunteering. “Sometimes they just stop there and start talking. I try to comfort them, because I know how it feels.”
To highlight her five years of volunteerism with Duke HomeCare & Hospice, Fowler received the 2017 Duke University Employee Community Service Award, which highlights the work of staff and faculty members who have “performed truly outstanding volunteer service to the Durham community.”
Employees are nominated by the nonprofits and departments in which they serve, and the Duke Community Service Center and Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs read the nominations.
“This annual employee service award gives the university an opportunity to acknowledge the many ways our employees are committed to supporting the mission of local nonprofits and departments,” said Sam Miglarese, director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, which is part of the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs. “We commend Fowler for dedicating her time and energy to helping sick patients and providing support to their families.”
To honor Fowler’s volunteerism, the Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs is making a $200 cash contribution to Duke HomeCare & Hospice.
Fowler was nominated by Carolyn Colsher, volunteer supervisor for Duke HomeCare & Hospice. Duke Hospice currently has 225 volunteers, and Colsher said Fowler fills extra volunteer shifts, helps nurses by answering calls or making them a cup of tea, and listens intently to patients and their family members.
“Deborah is somebody who everybody meets and everybody loves. She’s just one of those people,” Colsher said. “People will come in and she’ll greet them, and they’ll start talking with her. They need somebody to hear their story.”