Gary Shapiro has been a Chaplain for the Hospice program at Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire (VNH) for four years and has recently stepped into the role of Interim Hospice Volunteer Coordinator.
VNH sat down with Shapiro to discuss his new role as Volunteer Coordinator and how it is a natural extension from his current role.

Tell us a little bit about your role as Volunteer Coordinator.

My aim is to renew and reinvigorate the volunteer program. Currently, I am looking at the volunteer program and seeing what programs and services we need for our patients and caregivers and what is most appropriate with the ongoing pandemicOnce I establish this I will be reconnecting with our current volunteers and recruiting new volunteers, to work with our patients and their families in a variety of waysI also do the orientation, train new volunteers, and then oversee what the volunteers are doing and support them in their work.

How is this a natural extension of the work you do as a chaplain?

It gives me a certain awareness and sensitivity to what patients and their families and caregivers need beyond what the nurses doMy role as a chaplain is to provide that emotional, spiritual support and companionship for people and their families as they go through the hospice journey, and a volunteer can provide extra emotional support and companionship. These volunteers play a big part in that hospice team care.

Why is volunteering important?

It’s a rewarding opportunity to serve someone that is in need and to be of service to the community that you live in. It can be a way to give back at a time when a lot of us feel overwhelmed. It provides companionship and the emotional support that the patient or family gets from someone being there. It helps the patient and family feel that they are not alone during this time.

Why do you enjoy working at VNH?

I enjoy working at VNH as it allows me to follow my life calling of spiritual ministry and to serve people in a holistic way that integrates mind-body-spirit. I enjoy working person-to-person in the field, with the flexibility to create my own schedule, to a large extent. I appreciate being part of a team where we support each other and are supported by the organization’s leadership and staff. VNH’s modest size allows for more direct communication and coordination.

What lead you to this line of work?

I’ve long felt a calling to serve people in a spiritual support/healing capacity, in a way that would build upon my personal spiritual journey that encompasses many faith paths and traditions. That led me to attend a two-year interfaith seminary program from which I graduated and was ordained as an interfaith minister in 2011. The following year I began volunteering as a chaplain at a local hospital in Vermont, which included ministering to people at the end of life. In 2013, my dear mother was admitted to hospice and I experienced firsthand the care and support given to dying patients and their families. With the support of the hospice team, my family and I were able to accompany mom at the end of her life journey with peace, dignity, and love. That experience of being on the receiving end of hospice, more than anything else, planted the seed in me to become a hospice chaplain.

What is something about you people would be surprised to know?

Before becoming an interfaith minister 10 years ago, I had a wide range of jobs– ranging from a botanist in Mexico to a tour guide in many regions of the US and Canada to a hotel desk clerk to community peacebuilding advisor in conflict-laden countries in the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and Africa.