Death brought Thomas Dreier to Niagara Hospice, and the memory of his father keeps him there.
Dreier hasn't been on the receiving end of hospice services. He's been on the giving end -- and Niagara Hospice is looking for more people just like him.
"I guess I'm an errand runner, and I do respite care," said Dreier, one of 103 volunteers at the agency. He started volunteering several years after his father, Edward, died in 1986.
The need for volunteers is expected to rise with the spring opening of Niagara Hospice House, which will hold eight suites for patients who need residential hospice care and 10 suites for patients who need short-term medical monitoring and symptom management.
Volunteer training sessions start this week. They will run from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Feb. 5 at the agency's headquarters, 4675 Sunset Drive.
"Without volunteers, there would be no hospice," said Alice D. Beck, director of volunteer services. "They are the backbone, the force behind every service we provide . . . Niagara Hospice served over 800 families last year, making the need for new volunteers more essential than ever."
Opportunities for volunteering include jobs such as delivering prescriptions, visiting homes and sitting with patients, cutting and styling hair, and providing office help.
Dreier, of North Tonawanda, has given his time to Niagara Hospice for the last 10 years.
"It makes you feel good," he said. "It makes you feel needed and appreciated."
And, as an elder at St. Paul Lutheran Church in North Tonawanda, "My faith tells me it's something you should be doing," he said.
Patricia Scremin, of Niagara Falls, has volunteered at Niagara Hospice for 15 years.
"It gives me more personal satisfaction than any other volunteer job that I have been involved in," she said.
Scremin said she became involved before her husband, Eric, died in 2001, and that she would like to see more families volunteering with the agency.
It is important to remember, she said, that Niagara Hospice serves not only patients who are dying from cancer, but from any life-threatening illness.
Beck said that probably one of the most important contributions a volunteer can make is to be on a vigil team when a patient is going through the last 24 hours of his or her life.
"You're just there. You make [the family] coffee and you're just there," Beck said.
To volunteer for the training program, call the Niagara Hospice volunteer office at 439-4417. The agency serves only individuals and families from Niagara County, but volunteers can come from any county.