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Lending a comforting hand

Nicole Phillip is doing all she can to spread HYPE.Phillip, a freshman majoring in business administration, was among the handful of students from the USF St. Petersburg campus behind the creation of HYPE, or Hospice Youth Providing Encouragement.

Since 1977, the Hospice organization has provided comfort, compassion and community for the terminally ill and their loved ones. Serving as a non-profit organization, it assists those coping either personally or professionally with terminal illness, death and the process of grief.

Phillip received the Rookie Organizational Support Award for her willingness, commitment and compassion at the annual Hospice of the Florida Suncoast Volunteer Appreciation luncheon on Jan. 28.

“There was a need for more volunteers,” Phillip said. “Especially in those areas of St. Petersburg.”

In August 2004, Phillip’s local pastor requested her help with the recruitment of younger volunteers for the Hospice and Faith and Action partnership in the southern areas of St. Petersburg. Hospice and Faith and Action, formally known as Caregiver’s United, is a partnership seeking to help improve the volunteer care-giving capabilities of Hospice volunteers.

Phillip agreed to join a 12-student teen council to speak to others about the need for an increase in volunteers, specifically youths, in the south St. Petersburg area.

“From the beginning, I knew Nicole was one of the strong leaders on the council,” said Nina Gilbert, volunteer partnerships program coordinator for Hospice.

After the members of the council underwent the required Hospice training, they received a grant from the Eckerd Family Foundation to create a new organization. Thus, HYPE was born.

“We were now able to begin recruiting new students,” Phillip said. “And we eventually adopted Hospice Teen Volunteer (HTV) program activities, such as Lifetime Legacies, Cheer Team and Petals for Patients.”

The programs were designed to help Hospice patients cope with their terminal conditions. As part of Lifetime Legacies, volunteers create videos to document patients as they tell their life stories. Volunteers can also make scrapbooks for the patients and their families as another method of documenting the patient’s life.

Cheer Team involves volunteers making handmade gifts, such as a quilt or pillow, and distributing them to patients during visits. Cakes are often baked and given to the patients for their birthdays, as well.

Petals for Patients aims to bestow joy upon patients via flowers. Volunteers have special flower arrangements made for the patients to brighten their day.

In addition to adopting traditional HTV programs, HYPE has created an Arts Program allowing volunteers to use their talents in the arts to entertain Hospice patients.

With this new development, volunteers can visit with patients and sing for them at their homes or the Hospice House Woodside and Villas in Pinellas Park, according to Phillip.

“We’ve even sang for people in their last hours,” she said. “It’s very emotional – but I love what I’m doing. It allows me to share my talent with others.”

Gilbert, who nominated Phillip for her award, describes the Arts Program as “the Hallmark of HYPE.”

“Patients who may not have been responding will suddenly come to life,” Gilbert said. “It brings people to tears, not just the family and friends, but the nurses, too.”

Now in its second year, HYPE is spreading outside its tiny bubble. Phillip did not want to leave HYPE behind after high school. With her help in the recent establishment of HYPE for Hospice at the USF St. Petersburg campus, students will be able to become volunteers for Hospice as well as mentors for other volunteers.

“It’s a great opportunity for students who are interested in volunteering,” Phillip said. “It could also lead them in directions for internships in (multiple fields) such as nursing and business.”

According to Gilbert, Hospice is working on getting sponsorships so students such as Phillip can receive scholarships for their dedication and leadership. Gilbert added Hospice hopes to spread HYPE outside the Pinellas County boundaries.

Meanwhile, HYPE for Hospice at the USF St. Petersburg campus continues to grow even with its small number of volunteers.

“As of now, we’re still to recruiting volunteers at the St. Petersburg campus,” Phillip said. “It’s mainly by word of mouth or through the Web, since I’m taking classes in Tampa. If enough students join HYPE for Hospice at the St. Pete campus, then the founders will try to bring it over to the Tampa campus.”

When asked about her Hospice experience so far, Phillip said: “It makes you put your life into perspective. These patients are opening up their homes, and basically their lives. It’s very humbling.”

For more information about HYPE, contact Nicole Phillip at