December 2012 Volunteer of the Month
If you’ve read our previous Volunteer of the Month profiles, you might notice a theme in terms of how they all view people with ALS. Whether someone is a Visiting Volunteer, or helps in the office, sets up an event, or organizes a team for the Walk to Defeat ALS®, our volunteers emphasize the word ‘person’ in the phrase ‘person with ALS.’ That is especially true with our December Volunteer of the Month, Linda Brotschol.
Many people choose to volunteer in order to give back, and that is also the case with Linda. However, Linda was not originally looking to give back to The ALS Association. When she started, Linda’s goal was to give back to Hospice, after Hospice volunteers had supported her mom. However, when she went to help at Chandler Hall in Bucks County back in1998, she found that there was a wait time and a process to get involved.
Linda did not want to wait to help. She was then directed to support people with ALS. At that time, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter provided care for several patients at Chandler Hall and it seemed like a good opportunity. After hitting it off wonderfully with one person with ALS named Joe, Linda ended up not going to Hospice because she loved helping those living with ALS.
That started in 1998, and she continued helping people with ALS until Chandler Hall closed after 2006. However, Linda’s heart remained open for people with ALSas Gail Houseman called her and asked if she wanted to become a Visiting Volunteer. This program connects people like Linda with persons with ALS to provide companionship and support throughout their disease.
Since 2007, Linda has been helping Denise, a person with ALS from Bucks County, one of a dozen people who she has stood by since she began volunteering nearly 15 years ago.
For Linda, helping people with ALS comes naturally. She gives them her time, her attention, and her compassion and always makes a point to treat them like a normal human being whom just happen to be in a wheelchair or just happens to have trouble speaking.
“I can remember in the nursing home being in the midst of Alzheimer’s and other devastating diseases. One person would come in and talk like a baby to people with ALS, and she didn’t realize that just because someone could not communicate well, that doesn’t mean that they are not still smart,” said Linda. “I’ve found that if I treat someone as if they were my grandmother, or my aunt, or a friend then they are more comfortable to ask you to do things. You have to treat people with courtesy and kindness.”
Linda feels that as much as she has given to others, she has received so much in return. She has gained new perspectives and understanding for people living with a disability. “They are so aware that things aren’t handy for them,” said Linda. “People aren’t necessarily considerate. At the Philadelphia Flower Show with Denise, people were just oblivious. Even that is something I’ve gained. I’m much more aware that someone who is handicapped may be having difficulty handling a crowd or a social situation.”
In addition to learning about people with ALS and people with disabilities, Linda has learned about the goodness of others as well. She has hosted get-to-gethers for people with ALS at her house and was surprised and heartened by the support from her family and neighbors. People offered to bring food and do whatever was necessary to make the day special for the families. As a result, Linda has been able to see the best in others.
Linda is valuable to the Chapter and people with ALS because she listens and notices what others may think of as little things, but are actually things that very much impact a person living with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She noticed when one person could no longer sign their name for checks and another person had a feeding tube and could not eat well anymore. Linda sat with her and helped her eat a cupcake very slowly, over 45 minutes, just so she could get the taste she so wanted. Experiences like that have shown Linda that the time she can give is so valuable. While she praises the hard work and compassion of nursing home staff, she knows that they have to rush from one room to another to do challenging work. Meanwhile, Linda can give of herself and sit with a person just so that they can have a friend or even eat a cupcake.
Because she treats people with compassion and respect, they are willing to confide in her not just a volunteer, but as a friend. Sometimes people with ALS have thoughts or fears that they are not comfortable sharing with people close to them, even family, but they will talk to Linda. We can put a price tag on a wheelchair or a ramp, but you can’t put a price tag on a good listener.
Linda feels fortunate to be involved with the Greater Philadelphia Chapter. She has attended events with Denise like Hot Chocolate and the Walk to Defeat ALS®. She calls us an “amazing organization” for what the Chapter does in services and care, but an amazing organization only gets that way with people like Linda. We are happy to have her here fulfilling our mission to be there for people with ALS. That is why we are honored to have Linda as our December Volunteer of the Month.