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It’s a sickness, but I’m always looking for ways to mathematically quantify the impact of volunteers. The most common way of course is tracking how many volunteers and how many service hours. How about we get creative and  track “well this volunteer, based on his moving volunteer experience told his neighbor who then spoke to her mom in another state who mentioned it at her bridge game and one of her partners’ husbands needed help and so she went home and called hospice right away.” Try and measure that chain of events. If you can, please let me know, because I’d quantify that in a heartbeat!

The other day, I, along with a volunteer, spoke to a group of university students who were taking a therapeutic writing course. Our volunteer, Grace approached this professor, thinking that we could snag a few volunteers from her class. Grace records life stories with our patients and is always looking for volunteers to help. We’ve seen the great interaction between the students and the older patients and love the whole intergenerational pairing.

And so we presented our program to the class, peppering our talk with lots of anecdotes from experience. To their credit, they were polite listeners, and asked some really meaningful questions.

The day after we received an email from the professor. Although it will be very difficult for the students to interview our patients (schedules, transportation-the usual things that unfortunately get in the way) they would like to partner with us.

The professor thanked us profusely. It appears that after we had gone, the students opened up about their grandparents. Many wished they had spent more time with them and had learned more about their stories. Most had fascinating grandparents with experiences in the great depression, World War II and Korea, and difficulties immigrating and assimilating into a new country. It seems, for them, therapeutic writing took on a whole new meaning.

Ok, so now what? Well, we are going to find a way to partner. What that means is, though, we will spend the time with them without any volunteer assistance in return. Shocker. So, I can’t record any hours or add any new volunteers. Oh well. These young people are vibrant and just being around them makes me feel useful. So what if I can’t find a way to record these hours spent. (I can’t believe I’m saying that! No! There has to be a formula there!)

But, someday, somewhere down the line, one of those students will have grown up and while taking his kids to school, the thought will dawn on him that he needs to give back and he will think about his experience in the classroom and his local hospice will get a really good volunteer.

And somehow, somewhere in my perfect little analytical world, the volunteer coordinator will call me up and tell me that and I will put a hash mark down on my mad scientist type of graph and proclaim loudly “AHA!”

That’s if I’m around that long…