Adella Harris has been many things to Mission Hospice over the years: volunteer nurse, board member, fundraiser, committee member and chair, and most recently, one of only two Honorary Lifetime Members of the board. But she says one of her most important roles is as a donor, which at one time was her main connection to Mission Hospice.
“It was the only way I knew how to stay kind of present,” she said. “Now I know the donor really is at the bedside. There would be no caregiving without the donors. I have a greater appreciation of that.”
Harris was a relatively new nurse working at Mills Hospital in San Mateo when she first heard about Mission Hospice from a newspaper article announcing its founding. “I had been reading about hospice work in my nursing studies so I was glad to hear San Mateo was going to get one,” sherecalled. She was so pleased about it that she mentioned it to a patient she was nursing. “She was terminally ill and she was going to be discharged, so I was talking to her about her plans for going home and asked if she’d consider Mission Hospice for care.”
The woman replied that she not only knew about Mission Hospice, but had founded it. The patient, of course, was Marguerite “Mac“ Nash, who co-founded Mission Hospice with Helen Lagen and who also was its first patient. “She thought it was funny and wonderful that I referred her to Mission Hospice and we shared some real laughs over this,” Harris said.
A few years later, in 1981, Harris joined Mission Hospice as a volunteer nurse. In those days – before the Medicare hospice benefit – all of the caregivers were volunteers. “In the early days, I focused a lot on the patients’ physical needs,” she recalled. “Part of my growth as a volunteer was that patients needed more than that from me. They wanted more listening and emotional support. Volunteering is a learning process, and each patient teaches you something of value.”
Harris gave up direct care volunteering to work with her husband, Dr. Jonathan Feinberg, and to raise their two daughters. When she “retired” from her husband’s office in 1996, she returned to Mission Hospice, where she was not only a direct-care volunteer, but started making fund-raising suggestions.
“We didn’t have a development staff,” she recalled. “The donor cards were in a shoebox. So, as often happens when you speak up, I was invited to be on the Board of Directors. Once I got on the board, I realized there were many opportunities to develop the donor program.”
She also helped organize some of the community forums that drew hundreds of people with topics such as mourning quilts and the healing powers of music. She completed six years (two terms) on the board in 2005 and was recognized with the first Lotus Award for outstanding support of Mission Hospice in 2006. More recently, she’s been named only the second Honorary Lifetime Member of the board with co-founder Helen Lagen.
“Now I have the emeritus role, which I enjoy very much,” she said. “Mission Hospice is in full bloom and I’m thrilled to see the progress, the enthusiasm and the confidence the community is showing in the work. I feel very encouraged and positive about the expanded care to patients offered through the Transitions and the new Advanced Care programs. They really enhance what we can do for the patients and their families.”