Volunteering stories | Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand | Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty

Volunteering stories

Volunteering stories

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Matt Ward and Rosko bring joy to the sick at Tauranga Hospital

Walk down a corridor in Tauranga Hospital on a Thursday, and it's likely you'll encounter Matt Ward and his red bandanna-clad dog Rosko.

Matt Ward and Rosko

Each week the pair visit sick patients to help "make them feel a little bit better about being here", Ward says.

The sight is enough to spark smiles from amazed children or make grown men cry.

"We've come in and had people break down in tears when they see us," Ward says.

"For some reason, [dogs] just seem really emotional for people. There was one guy in particular who was really angry and would not eat or talk to anyone, but when he saw us, he was 'oh, there's a dog, look at that'. It was a complete change of personality."

Ward and Rosko, a 50kg German shepherd, have been visiting patients for 18 months.

Ward says the idea came from a conversation with a friend who had a therapy dog.

"I thought it would be pretty cool for Rosko to get a job. It just has built from there, really. We came in and got such fulfilment that first time, and we did it again and again and again. Eighteen months later, it's still as awesome as the first day."

Ward spends his days as a policeman and loves helping the community through his role, but he wanted more.

"I thought I'd give it a crack, and haven't looked back."

Rosko "who can be a bit of a goofball" also loved his job.

"When I get the scarf out at home, he knows he's going to the hospital, and he gets excited."

When children run up to him in the corridors, he'll sit down and laps up the pats and attention, Ward says.

Ward also works as a volunteer for Land Search and Rescue and spends many weekends away training or searching for someone.

He says his wife is his biggest supporter, which helps him to help others.

The couple also have Mia, another German shepherd, who he hopes to get involved in Land Search and Rescue.

"It's just cool to give something back," Ward says.

Ward and Rosko are one of 15 dog and handler volunteer teams that work on a roster at the hospital.

Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty regional manager for volunteer service Lesley Grant says as soon as a dog and its handler appear in hospital, "people begin to smile and the atmosphere lifts".

"The Volunteer Pet Therapy Team is dedicated to their role in helping accelerate the recovery of patients.

"They get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing the positive impact they have. They are a humble, caring group of people that I am honoured to have in the volunteer service."

Special women thanked for 50 years of volunteering

Two very special women who have been putting smiles on children's faces for nearly 50 years are being celebrated.

50 years of volunteeringMichael Wenzel (left) with his 7-month-old son Lucas (right) and volunteer Doreen Birchfield (seated centre). 2. Debz Turner is in her 27th year of volunteering at Tauranga Hospital.

Doreen Birchfield and Debz Turner are volunteers at Tauranga Hospital's Children's Ward and are being thanked for their dedication as National Volunteer Week is marked (17-23 June).

"The kids love asking me how old I am," says 81-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother Doreen. "One little girl asked me once and when I told her she screwed her face up and said: 'Yuck you're nearly 100!'"

Come rain, hail or sunshine, Doreen has walked from her home to the hospital every Wednesday for her two-hour 'shift' since 1996. She started volunteering at Auckland's Princess Margaret Hospital in 1989 and spent six years at Starship Children's Hospital before moving to Tauranga. On Mondays, Doreen also volunteers to spend time with the 'elderly' at Tauranga's Fraser Manor resthome.

"I love people and coming to the hospital, the kids keep me going, and the Children's Ward team are a like a family. I really enjoy it."

Play Specialist Donna Opie says Doreen emanates warmth, knowledge and kindness. "It's that grandmotherly approach that the children love," she says.

Debz Turner is in her 27th year of service and is the ward's longest-serving volunteer. In the early days, Debz said there was often a queue of children waiting for the toy trolley to arrive in the morning. She has seen lots of changes, including the shorter stays the children have in hospital now.

"We used to get to know some of the children really well as they often stayed for weeks," she says.

She has seen some children, whose conditions mean they are regular visitors, grow from babies to teenagers.

In the early 2000s, when Debz lived in Gate Pa, she volunteered up to three days a week. Having moved to Pāpāmoa in 2010, she continues to commute by bus one afternoon a week, helping maintain the playroom and resources.

She is always eager for a board game.

Her greatest highlight is "to see smiles on the children's faces".

Play Specialist Team Leader Debbie McDougall says the commitment shown by Debz over the years has been unwavering.

"She is open and accepting and willing to undertake any task that is required to ensure a welcoming and safe playroom," she says.

Pet therapy proves huge hit at Tauranga Hospital

Eunice Whitcombe's face lights up as Sally the greyhound walks into her room.

An inpatient at Tauranga Hospital's Ward 4B, Eunice looks forward to these visits, as do so many other patients.

"Dogs are so comforting," says the Greerton resident gently stroking Sally's head. "Reminds me of my greyhound Roxy."

Sally is part of the volunteer Pet Therapy programme, a patient rehabilitation improvement initiative that started in early 2017. Thirteen dogs and their handlers, all vetted and approved by national pet therapy charity Canine Friends, now visit Tauranga Hospital's wards on a rolling roster. Strict hygiene and behavioural protocols govern the programme.

The dog's presence immediately changes the energy in a room says Sally's handler, Emma Richardson.

Pet therapy in action ward 4BEunice Whitcombe (left) with Canine Friends' Emma Richardson (right) and Sally the greyhound.

"Patients love the interaction, especially if they haven't seen many people that day. We find that, because we come in on regular days, they actively look forward to our visits."

Emma has her own personal reasons for volunteering as a handler.

"My 96-year-old grandmother is in a hospice in England and I would dearly love to be visiting her with my dog as I know how much she would enjoy it," she says.

"So when I'm visiting people on the wards it's like I'm visiting my grandma - it's my way of giving back."

How does pet therapy work?

"Research shows this type of therapy encourages a sense of comfort and normality," says Regional Manager Volunteer Services Lesley Grant.

"It helps with engagement and re-integration into socialising with other people again. This leads to a more rapid recovery.

"Patients in the Acute Stroke and Mental Health wards especially, who have been upset and withdrawn, are more likely to react to an animal as they are seen as non-judgemental. They help lower anxieties and blood pressure levels."

Photo caption (above):Eunice Whitcombe (left) with Canine Friends' Emma Richardson (right) and Sally the greyhound.

New volunteer musical initiative introduced

A new volunteer musical initiative has been introduced on Tuesdays fortnightly between 11.30am - 2pm.

Well-known Tauranga musician Margaret Harper is using her talents to bring yet another dimension to the volunteer service. With her 34 string hand-crafted Minstrel lever harp she is in the main corridor outside the Outpatients Department with her tunes floating along and upwards through the area.

It is inspiring to see and feel the atmosphere change to calmness and pleasure as people pass or stop and listen to the clarity of the harp's notes. Many sit beside her and share their stories and also talk with her about how much they enjoy her contribution towards making a visit to the hospital less nerve-racking.

"Through music I have experienced and shared with others many wonderful and life-enriching moments," she says.

"I am constantly amazed and humbled by the power that music has on the human body and soul. My musical journey is one which is filled with tears and laughter and I have met so many glorious people along the way."

Come along and check out this new initiative to add to the overall positive experience of visiting our hospital.

Margaret Harper

Volunteering meaningful and rewarding

"I wanted to do something meaningful with my time and helping others has given me that and more," says mother-of-two and volunteer Lynne Riddle.

Lynne has been volunteering at Tauranga Hospital's Ward 2B for three-and-a-half years and loves what she does.

"With my daughters getting older I had more time on my hands and thought it was something I'd like to do."

Volunteering meaningful and rewarding

She describes her role as 'hands off, hearts on', as volunteers do not move patients or do jobs that paid staff would normally perform.

"It's about doing those little things the nurses simply don't have time to do," says Lynne.

"Like making cups of tea for the patients and visitors, general tidying, chatting to people, making them more comfortable, welcoming them and taking their minds off things.

"Every day is different and it's very sociable."

Bethlehem resident Tony Waters, originally from the Kāpiti Coast, said volunteers like Lynne performed a very important role.

"I have been in hospital elsewhere and have never experienced this level of volunteers - it's wonderful," says Tony.

"Hospital can be quite a daunting place, and to have a friendly face dropping by is very important.

"Sometimes people don't have visitors, so seeing that regular friendly face and being able to offload to them, it's an extremely valuable contribution."