Eighteen years ago, Teresa’s husband, and the father of her two children, died at the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, while attending a conference. She says the early days afterwards were a whirlwind of chaos and confusion, anxiety and overwhelming grief. However, in the aftermath of that devastating tragedy, Teresa was amazed by how her community stepped up to help her and her family through what was otherwise an impossible time.
“My family and I were blessed with the extraordinary kindness and compassion of our friends, family, neighbors, church, school, community–at-large and even total strangers,” Teresa says. “As many say, “It takes a village.” I have never forgotten that caring embrace and support.”
Today, Teresa lives that statement to its fullest. She volunteers her time as an eucharistic minister at her local church and as a spiritual care volunteer at El Camino Hospital, which is walking distance from her home. Both volunteer roles require a significant investment of her time, but she says her weekly volunteer work at the hospital has been beyond rewarding.
“There was a lot of training to undergo before I could start my work. I had to pass a background check, learn hospital policies and protocols, undergo safety training and shadow other spiritual care volunteers,” Teresa remembers. “But it has all been completely worth it. On days when I volunteer at the hospital, as I walk from room to room, offering spiritual care to patients, I am grateful and constantly reminded of the abundant blessings I receive in return.”
One of Teresa’s favorite hospital units to work is Mother-Baby. She says that it reminds her of Christmas, and new beginnings. She shares, “Families who experience the miracle of new life appreciate our ministry and our prayers as they look forward to their lives ahead as a newly expanded family.
It is important that not only are patients’ bodies looked after, but that their minds and hearts are also cared for. Spiritual care volunteers from a variety of faith backgrounds visit with patients, families and staff and provide empathetic listening, a supportive presence, prayers and/or appropriate readings, celebrate holy observances and more. The goal is to create an environment where spiritual, emotional and physical healing can occur.
Even though one of the services Teresa provides to her patients is prayer and thoughtful blessings, she feels that she is actually the one who leaves her volunteer shifts feeling blessed.
“Patients are in the hospital for physical healing and recovery, but during my visits, I feel privileged and honored to offer them spiritual care for their souls,” she says. “Whether it is a patient who has just received news they are anxious about or fearful about their impending surgery, or others waiting to be discharged, patients are deeply moved, sometimes in tears, and are grateful for the opportunity to have a volunteer pray with them, offer them blessings, a kind word, and even Holy Communion.”
For Teresa, volunteering her time with patients at El Camino Hospital is just one way to give back to the community around her, in the same way that her community rallied around her and her family after tragedy struck.
“I was so blessed by community support when I needed it most that I always look for opportunities to pay it forward to others,” Teresa says. “I am never so happy as when I am serving others, in any way I can.”
While Teresa serves as a spiritual care volunteer, there are many ways to volunteer at El Camino Hospital. Currently there are more than 1,400 volunteers serving the El Camino Hospital community. Orientation and training are provided, and volunteers benefit from free access to hospital resources, including classes offered through the education department. Learn more about different ways to volunteer at El Camino Hospital.