Sometimes, when a person is near death, the smallest gestures can mean the most. Things like having someone come over to do simple chores, run an errand or maybe something even smaller. It could be sitting and listening -- just being someone who is there. That's the role Jack Toti has filled for several years.
The Hilton Head Island resident was named the 2010 Volunteer of the Year at Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, a nonprofit organization that offers end-of-life services for patients in Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties.
Toti came to the Lowcountry about 13 years ago from Rhode Island where he worked as a special agent in Criminal Investigations for the U.S. Treasury Department. He was looking for a way to give back to the community when he came across hospice care. He started doing administrative work for the group in 2006.
He waited about a year before he could take a class on interacting with the patients directly. Volunteers have to take 21 hours of classes before interacting directly with patients and their families, said volunteer coordinator Renee Woodruff. They also take continuing education classes, such as a session with Memory Matters about how to deal with patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Hospice care relies on a network of about 200 volunteers who perform a multitude of tasks from sitting with patients to completing administrative tasks. Toti has been willing to stuff envelopes or take on a new patient, which was why he was selected the volunteer of the year.
"He plays so many roles in our agency," Woodruff said.
He visits with his patients about once a week. The variety of tasks vary. He could be running errands or performing odd jobs around the house. A lot of his work allows for the caregivers to take some time off. Caring for a loved one can be a full-time job, after all.
Being a hospice volunteer requires a gentle touch. The entire reason the volunteer is there is because the patient is near death. So, essentially, as soon as the relationship starts between volunteer and patient, it is bookended. Both know it will end soon. He's had patients anywhere from a week to a year. Some patients want to talk about that fact, and he'll listen. Some don't, and he doesn't ask.
"I enjoy just getting to know them in the time we have," he said. "I've met so many people who lead so many interesting lives."
It's tough knowing the relationship could end without notice, he said. But it's worth it to provide comfort at the end of their days. Not everyone can have that.
"Hospice doesn't extend life. It doesn't quicken death," Toti said. "It gives quality at the end of life."