Byline: DAN SCANLAN
Community Hospice of Northeast Florida has almost 1,100 volunteers.
But none is, or ever has been, as young as Tal Lee, Max Goldstein and Aviela Weltman.
These Martin J. Gottlieb Day School eighth-graders are taking part in a pilot program at the Mandarin-based hospice to see if teens can join the outreach the agency has made for decades to those who are dying, specifically to help children in its PedsCare program.
While the three teens aren't working with those children yet, their good deeds so far have included office work and writing cards to families. Most recently, they made homemade Play-Doh to be used in therapy sessions in the PedsCare program, which offers support, counseling and care for children with life-threatening conditions.
As they measured and mashed flour, water, salt, oil and food coloring Friday morning, the students said their age is an asset when it is time to work with children who are terminally ill. And they feel like they are ready to handle the loss of a child they help.
"If I was a child, I would want to see children my age who could talk to me on my level," said Tal, 14. "I don't think it will be very tough on me. It may be [tough] emotionally if a child passes and I got really close to them, but it will be really good for me and I will find out new and different things that I can make differences in the world."
Classmate Aviela agrees, remembering how she reacted when she realized that "kids were in hospice and kids were dying."
"It was like a wake-up call and I really wanted to help," said Aviela, 13. "If I was sick and someone told me that I was getting a volunteer to talk to, and it was someone 30 years older than me, I would just say hi. If someone my own age would come in, I would be so happy and talk to them. It would be much better."
Community hospice was started 27 years ago to care for people who were dying, helping 5,354 patients last year in its 38-bed facility at 4266 Sunbeam Road, a 17-bed unit at Shands Jacksonville Pavilion and during visits to homes, nursing homes or other facilities in Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties. Those include psychological, social and physician services for children who have a serious condition, but have a life expectancy of more than a year. It also includes bereavement counseling plus nursing and medical support for those who have less than six months to live. …