Craig Schroeder puts the heart into volunteer support
Over a decade ago, Craig Schroeder was ready for a career change and had applied to nursing school to become a trauma nurse. His friend Dr. Gary Pasternak, who had been working with Mission Hospice for several years, suggested that Craig would get valuable experience by volunteering. Craig completed his volunteer training in 2012 and dove right in, telling Volunteer Director Hank Nourse that he wanted three patients at a time.
He remembers fondly one particularly special patient he visited for nearly a year: Helen Lagen, who co-founded Mission Hospice in 1979. The pair became close friends.
Helen, who was bedridden, loved being outside in her garden. Each time he visited, Craig moved her to a gurney and took her outside where they sat together and talked. “It was an honor and a privilege to visit Helen. It was like taking care of my grandmother again. I learned so much about Mission Hospice.”
The experience of volunteering changed the trajectory of Craig’s life. Instead of heading to nursing school, in 2015 he joined the Mission Hospice staff as a Volunteer Coordinator – and when Hank retired three years later, Craig became our Volunteer Services Director.
Together with Volunteer Coordinators Jennifer Guevarra and Constance Sweeney, Craig now supports around 130 volunteers who work throughout the Peninsula and South Bay. He leads an intensive 26-hour volunteer training twice a year, holds monthly volunteer support meetings, and offers volunteers continuing education and special training.
Craig explains that the Mission Hospice training is unique: while most hospice agencies rely on computer-based virtual training and testing, Mission Hospice volunteers are taught by our own experts, based on our philosophy of care.
“The throughline is heart-centered communication, listening, and compassion at the bedside.”
Craig certainly brings his heart to the program. A trained chef, he prepares and serves lunch to the volunteers at each of the Saturday training sessions. “No one goes hungry around me,” he says proudly.
Craig sees this kind of above-and-beyond support for volunteers as a part of our personalized approach. “Our volunteers support patients and families at the most transitional, intimate, and difficult time of life,” says Craig. “They need good training and good support to do their job. Our volunteers really make our organization stand out – they are the heart of Mission Hospice.”
Long-time volunteer Paul Smith says the feeling is reciprocal. “Craig makes each volunteer feel that they matter, and he gives you his complete attention and focus. He leads by example, and is sincere, insightful, supportive, and a total believer in the work we are all doing.”
Volunteers come to Mission Hospice from all over and for all kinds of reasons, and Craig has expanded the program to include high school and college students. All volunteers are trained to leave whatever’s going on in their life – good or bad – at the door. “The patient and family get to set the agenda,” he says. “The volunteers bring the magic.”
To make this magic happen, Craig and his team put a lot of thought into the match between a volunteer and a potential patient – each one unique. “We think about the patient and their needs, as well as the volunteer’s skills and experience,” he says. “A patient and family have only one chance at dying, and the match has to work for everyone.”
Craig says he is proud to be able to support our volunteers and – through them – our patients. His leadership is personal and heart-centered. “Everyone has a story,” he says. “Everyone has triumphs and losses in life. And everyone deserves respect, kindness, and compassion.”