Selfless woman honored as volunteer of the year

Published: January 3, 2006 | 3173rd good news item since 2003

Eleven years ago Sheila Johnson’s husband, Mike, died of lung cancer, and a few years after his passing she began turning her loss into a gain for countless others by becoming a Hospice volunteer.

An Ellensburg native who resides in Kittitas, the 58-year old Johnson volunteers with Hospice Friends, an organization that provides end-of-life care terminally ill patients. She’s been a hospice volunteer for more than nine years. During that time she has made an immeasurable mark on the lives of patients and their families, which is why the Daily Record selected her its Volunteer of the Year for 2005.

After Johnson’s husband fell ill he was being taken care of by a Hospice volunteer. That interaction helped her decide she wanted to help out at Hospice. [In the Midst of Life: A Hospice Volunteer’s Story]

“I thought to myself, someday I can do that, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join (Hospice) and help as much as I can,” Johnson said.

“I knew one of the ways I could help out was by giving back. I am not set up financially to give lots of money, so I give my time.”

She said giving time to Hospice has been one of the most rewarding experiences she has ever had.

“When I go into someone’s home and see the frantic look of helplessness, I want to help. It’s easy for me to help because I have been on that other side where you feel like you can’t do anything,” said Johnson. “To see that look of relief on people’s faces makes it all worthwhile.”

Her family and Hospice colleagues describe her as a compassionate and caring person.

“I don’t think she would ever say no. She is there just to bring something to the patients and to give herself. She wants to make a difference,” said Kim Brittain, a Hospice Friends program director. “Our tagline is ‘peace, comfort and care’ and she embodies it one hundred percent.”

Brittain said some of the qualities that make Johnson such a good volunteer are her compassion for others and her listening skills. [Field Notes on the Compassionate Life : A Search for the Soul of Kindness]

“She is very interested in people and their stories and accepting of who they are and where they are at in their lives,” she said.

Johnson’s daughter, Kim Dawson, described her mother as a “thoughtful and generous person.”

“Even for me, when you call her and ask her to do anything, she’s always willing to drop everything and do whatever she can to help out. She’s very giving and thoughtful,” said Dawson.

When Johnson isn’t giving her time to Hospice Friends she is highly involved at the First Lutheran Church, where she has been attending her entire life Dawson said. Johnson has sung in the choir and given sermons when the pastor is not available. She also enjoys going on walks, scrapbooking and water skiing Dawson said.

Prior to getting involved with Hospice Johnson was a beautician. She started cutting hair 27 years ago and she has been able to transfer that skill to her hospice work by giving haircuts to the patients who aren’t able to get out of the house much.

“I love doing hair so that’s not a chore or a job. It’s a nice hobby to have. People always feel nice after they get a haircut and I know I am doing something to make them feel good.”

She added that she thinks volunteering is one of the most enjoyable experiences a person can have and she encourages others to donate their time to hospice or other organizations.

“People don’t think they have the time and energy to volunteer but there are lost of different ways they can help,” she said. “I end up getting a lot more out of it than I give.”

Published in Volunteer
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