A meaningful way to recognize hospice volunteers

This month’s story hails from Toronto, Ontario, where Kathy Ratchford shares how she applied The Circle Way to create a meaningful activity to engage hospice volunteers in recognizing and celebrating their efforts.

The Circle Way: A Meaningful Way to Recognize Hospice Volunteers

As Coordinator of Recruitment and Training at Heart House Hospice (www.hearthousehospice.com) located in the Region of Peel, Ontario, Canada, one of my responsibilities is to help design the annual recognition program for our volunteers during National Volunteer Week (April, 2017). With the intent to celebrate the amazing volunteers who give so much of their time to make a meaningful difference to someone’s end of life experience, we work with a theme to plan a buffet dinner, gifts, and an activity that meaningfully engages all attending the event.

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In the months’ prior, a small group of staff and volunteers met to decide the theme “Touching Lives.” With the tag line – “If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life,” we had our planning focus.

During our holiday gathering in December, volunteers decorated rocks aligned with our theme – “touching the past.” Unbeknownst to them, they were decorating one for themselves, and for Heart House Hospice as “give away” gifts for the volunteer dinner.

To “touch the present,” fresh sunflowers would be placed on each table during the dinner. Of significance to Hospice, the mature sunflower, while looking like one large, sunny blossom, is really a flower-head made up of hundreds of small flowers. Like the sunflower, Hospice is made of many individual parts, from staff to donors and volunteers, all linked together by a single objective: to provide quality care and support to those with life-limiting illnesses.

Finally, we wanted a meaningful activity to engage the staff and volunteers attending the dinner which focused on our future, “touching lives.”

As a participant in an Art of Hosting training in November 2016, where I was introduced to The Circle Way, I proposed to the organizing group using a talking circle for this activity. As we would already be sitting around circular dinner tables of eight, it would be simple to recruit circle hosts and find something for sound for the guardian, talking pieces, and a great question.

With agreement to proceed with this process, I sent to staff attending the dinner information about The Circle Way and an invitation for them to serve as the host-guardian for their table’s circle. In addition to the posters I’d made to display around the room – The Circle Way, Circle Process, and Circle Agreements - each of the hosting staff would receive an easy-to-read guiding sheet.

At the dinner, I briefly introduced The Circle Way and gave an overview of the process. Silk sunflowers became our talking pieces. The host-guardians had fun using a variety of sound makers as time keepers - bells, a tambourine, and shakers. With 45 minutes for 3 rounds of conversation, hosts would maintain the flow of conversation, while inviting volunteers to express themselves.


Round 1 – Check In: In 1-3 words, “How are you arriving/feeling at this present moment?”

Round 2 - The Question: “How has being a volunteer at Heart House Hospice touched your life?”

Round 3 – Check Out: In 1-3 words, “How are you leaving the circle commenting on what you have learned: What has stayed in your heart and mind?”

There was a wonderful, uplifting energy in the room as volunteers took their turn to share and be listened to, something they do regularly for the palliative individuals they visit. Circle invited a depth of conversation as many volunteers shared intimate life details and how they have been touched by hospice. After the event, our hosting staff shared how meaningful it was for them to share and hear these stories.

Of the 62 program evaluations completed at the end of the evening, 90% of the volunteers stated the circle was an excellent activity. Below are verbatim comments:

  • Very interesting - it was a nice way to get to know each other
  • The Circle Way made me feel blessed to be part of such a large number of great people. The gratitude shown for all that we do and sharing the way we can bring joy and happiness in the Winter of our lives.
  • An intimate way to connect with others.
  • Very meaningful
  • Loved it!!
  • The Circle Way was GREAT!!

Even after the dinner, I continued to receive calls and emails from volunteers expressing how meaningful The Circle Way was for them to celebrate being a volunteer at Heart House Hospice.

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With a BA with honours in Psychology from Mount Allison University, Kathy Ratchford work as the Coordinator of Recruitment and Training, facilitating the 30-hour volunteer training for 3 different hospices in the Greater Toronto Area. She also has her own business providing Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Hypnosis, Past Life Regression, Reflexology, and Chair Massage. In November 2016, she attended a 3-day Art of Hosting training where she was introduced to and participated in The Circle Way. With a commitment to develop and grow every day, she is open to new opportunities that will enrich her life and those with whom she has the honour to connect. kratchford@hearthousehospice.com