Student dedicated to Hospice patients

October 01, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

CLEAR SPRING - It would have been an easy way to complete the service-learning requirement, if that had been his objective.

After all, Nevin Harshman only needed 15 hours of community service for the state high school graduation requirement, and he was able to put in that much time just going over the training booklet at Hospice of Washington County's volunteer orientation sessions. But that didn't seem right.

"I didn't want to just stop," Nevin said. "I wanted to go and visit."

That was the summer he finished eighth grade. Now, Nevin is 16 and a junior at Clear Spring High School, and he has been visiting Hospice patients at Julia Manor Health Care Center every other week for more than two years - longer than any other youth volunteer.

For an hour or two each session, he joins his mentor, Hospice volunteer Linda Marshall, to cheer up nursing home patients who sometimes have no one else to come visit, telling them about his day, sharing photos and listening to stories about their lives.


It's an invaluable gift of time and friendship that is worth even more coming from someone so young, because while the patients seem to get the most joy from visits from young people, few are willing to put in the time, said Nevin's mother, Tammy Harshman.

"I wish more young people would want to do it and stay with it," Nevin said. This week, he will switch from Julia Manor to Homewood at Williamsport, which has 12 Hospice patients, far more than Nevin can visit in an hour. Yet he is currently the Hospice organization's only youth volunteer. Other students who picked Hospice for their service learning finished their hours before ever visiting a patient, Nevin said. "A lot of people just aren't interested."

He can understand their reservations. Working to ease death can be a difficult hobby. Over two years, Nevin has forged 18 new friendships, and has seen more than a dozen of those new friends die. Sometimes the patients are incoherent, and sometimes they repeat the same conversations each time he visits. Once, as he walked through the hallway, a man in a wheelchair started crying.

But then there are also the triumphs: the grin that appears on patients' faces when he walks in the door, the stories they tell him about their pasts, the way he and Marshall sometimes have to talk their way out the door because patients are so reluctant to end their conversations.

"I just think about what good I'm doing for them," Nevin said. One patient, a stroke victim, wasn't able to speak, so Nevin brought in photo albums to help pass the time. As he showed a photo from homecoming, the patient's face lit up and a squeal of "oo!" escaped her lips.

After working as a Hospice volunteer, Nevin said he's decided to go into nursing. He plans to start taking nursing classes at Hagerstown Community College next year during his senior year of high school and hopes to work as an emergency room nurse at Washington County Hospital, where he's currently participating in a career exploration program.

His mother wasn't surprised to hear his decision.

"It's his disposition," Tammy Harshman said. "As soon as he told me, I could just see him doing that."

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