Villas woman recognized for helping patients at end of their lives

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 LOWER TOWNSHIP – Local officials recognized a long time resident for her dozen years of volunteer work supporting people at the end of their lives.

Judy Saracco, of the Villas, was honored for her work by council members earlier this month after she was named a Cape May County 2013 Outstanding Senior of the Year by the Department of Aging and Disability Services. Robert Thibault of Sea Isle City was the other recipient of the county’s award.

“You are known as an asset to the community and someone who makes everyday better for people around you,” said Mayor Michael Beck.

Saracco works as a hospice volunteer, providing emotional support and companionship to hospice patients and families during an often stressful time. After completing a 16-hour training program, volunteers make visits to homes and long term care facilities to “provide the gift of presence,” according to Holy Redeemer Home Care and Hospice information.

“I might go into a home for as little as an hour, or I might be there for six hours,” said Saracco. “There are lots of elderly people who relocated here when they retired. Their families are in different states and there is no one down here on a consistent basis.

“And, we provide respite for caregivers. Taking care of someone at the end of his or her life can be very tiring and all-consuming. We step in so caregivers can get to a doctor’s appointment on their own, or just go for a walk on the beach,” she said.

According to Holy Redeemer, volunteers might read to patients, prepare a snack, or simply provide companionship – frequently encouraging them to talk about their lives.

“Most of these people we are working with have had full and satisfying lives, and just need someone to be with them at the end,” said Saracco. “It’s very rewarding work.”

Hospice care is put in place in the last six months of someone’s life. The focus is on helping relieve the patient’s pain and other symptoms, while bringing comfort and helping patients maintain self-respect.

“Sometimes, you might be the 11th hour volunteer, sitting with someone at the very end of their lives – so no one is alone,” Saracco said.

Locally, Holy Redeemer has offices in Swainton, and they seek volunteers “who are emotionally mature, flexible and compassionate.”

No prior experience is needed as a 16-hour training program prepares volunteers for their new role, according to the Philadephia-based agency’s website. Training sessions are offered during the day and evening hours for your convenience.

“There are about 30 volunteers in South Jersey,” said Saracco, “but there’s always a need.” The training is varied, she said and offers “…a little bit of nursing, a lot of common sense.”

Eileen Ready is the volunteer coordinator for Cape May County and can be reached by phone at 465-2082.

Saracco lives in the Villas with her husband, Frank. The couple has nine children.

Formerly a legal secretary, Saracco also serves as supervisor for the “Wednesday Ladies,” a group of volunteers who provide clerical assistance to the agency. She makes bereavement calls to families who have lost a loved one and attends Holy Redeemer’s Quality Assurance meetings.

“After moving here, some 20 years ago, I worked for the agency as a secretary, but left after an accident,” Saracco said. “When I was ready to get back to work, I remembered the good experience I had with Holy Redeemer and wanted to get involved with them again.”

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