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Teen volunteers lift spirits of terminally ill and loved ones

February 25, 2002|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Teenager Jamie Kershner bounced into the room at Fahrney-Keedy Home & Village near Boonsboro on Wednesday with a stuffed dog and heart-shaped box - her Valentine's Day gifts to terminally ill resident Jean Morgan.

"This is some girl," said Morgan, 82. "She and her mother keep bringing me presents."

Jamie, a sophomore at Clear Spring High School, is one of three young patient care volunteers for Hospice of Washington County, a nonprofit organization of health-care professionals, support staff, spiritual care workers and volunteers who provide comfort and support to terminally ill patients and their loved ones.

"If I can make her smile and make her day happier, I leave here with more confidence," said Jamie, 15.

Among other illnesses, Morgan said, she suffers from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD, a term used to describe airflow obstruction that is associated mainly with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

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"Somebody has to do the walking for me now," Morgan said, "and that's Jamie."

A once-active teacher, Morgan is now confined to her room at Fahrney-Keedy, hooked to a machine that breathes for her. Despite her failing health, she remains cheerful and witty.

"I've only had 20 birthdays," chuckles Morgan, who was born Feb. 29. "I'd be happy to see another one."

Morgan is still full of enthusiasm and willing to impart a lifetime's worth of knowledge to her young friend.

"Jean's been around a lot longer than I have and she knows a lot more than I do," said Jamie, who visits about once a week.

She and Morgan - who enjoys surfing the Web on her laptop computer - said they often talk about their families, and the importance of school and setting future goals. Jamie said she likes to talk to Morgan about her dream of becoming a homicide detective.

Jamie's mother, Shirley Kershner, said her daughter has become more disciplined in her studies since spending time with Morgan.

Jamie said her time with Jean has been so rewarding that she has recruited several of her friends for the Hospice youth volunteer program.

"I tell them they get to talk to older people instead of constantly getting the views of teenagers," she said. "It's cool beans."

Six other students have completed Hospice training sessions and are now helping with administrative duties such as answering phones, compiling mailings and organizing special projects, including the Tree of Love.

Hospice launched the youth volunteer program in September 2001 as a way for high school students to earn the Student Service Learning hours they need to graduate, while gaining an understanding of death and the dying process, said Dawn Johns, community liaison coordinator for the agency.

The youth volunteer program is also another means for Hospice to enrich the lives of its clients, Johns said.

Jamie's visits lift Morgan's spirits, she said. The mother of seven children and a teacher for more than 20 years, Morgan has always surrounded herself with young people. "I just love them," she said.

Any student interested in volunteering for Hospice of Washington County can call volunteer coordinator Mary Foor at 301-791-6360.

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