Tie Blankets Keep Volunteer Connected to Rainbow Hospice
When Mary Neff was told it’s been over 19 years since she first started volunteering, she couldn’t believe where the time has gone.
“I was shocked when I heard it had been that long,” said Neff.
Mary has been a Rainbow Hospice Care (RHC) volunteer since May 2001, first starting in collaboration with Faith in Action and St. Coletta. Faith in Action has now become Your Friends in Action (YFIA), which is a special program of RHC for people who are not terminally ill, but whom could benefit from a little neighborly help to remain independent longer than otherwise might be possible.
With YFIA Mary would sometimes take patients on trips to the grocery store, doctor appointments, or the library. In those years of volunteering she has visited patients at several assisted living and skilled nursing facilities, visited patients’ homes, and has even volunteered at Rainbow’s Inpatient Center in Johnson Creek.
“I was the “call girl” when the lights would go on. I would run to their room to see how I could help and stuff like that,” Neff said.
Mary has also helped with cooking meals and sitting bedside with patients during end-of-life at the IPC.
Some of her most rewarding memories include the friendships she has formed during volunteering, including being able to use sign language, a skill she first learned over 45 years ago.
Mary first learned sign language back in 1974 when she worked for the state of Wisconsin. She taught sign language classes at Johnson Creek High School for a few years before the interest waned and did sign language services for the television church mass on channel 3 in Madison for while too.
She never thought she would still be using those skills today, but has had a few opportunities to communicate with Rainbow patients who are deaf.
Besides all her work with Rainbow Hospice, Mary has an extensive list of volunteer experience, including helping out with her church and she even was a Visiting Angel from 2011-2018.
Mary was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, forcing her to slow down and limit her visits with patients. Her chemotherapy treatment affected her heart and has left her using a walker since 2018, forcing her to give up some volunteering opportunities. But she was still able to go and visit Cathy, a YFIA care recipient, and got to sign with her. They had forged a friendship over the years. Unfortunately, Cathy passed away this past February, but because Mary met another friend through Cathy she is able to meet up with her and sometimes they sign together.
“I miss Cathy,” said Neff. “I was so grateful when Jill Radke (YFIA’s Volunteer Coordinator) found her for me and grateful when I met Cathy’s friend, Wendy. If you don’t continue to sign, you start to forget some things.”
Even though Mary hasn’t been able to go out and volunteer in the community as much she has in the past, tie blankets have become her perfect therapy. She is able to tie a few here and a few there when she finds the time.
“I can work on it when I feel good and if I don’t feel so good, it can wait until I do feel better,” Neff said. “It keeps my mind occupied. Sometimes I’ll go and sit on the chair and watch TV and tie. Because of the walker I can’t just get up and run outside. I’m very grateful to be able to do it.”
Mary’s granddaughter even offered to help her with one of the blankets.
“I was tying them and she said ‘Grandma, what are you doing? Can I help?’ and I said ‘I think you can if you can tie two knots,’ Neff said. “I went back and double checked it and it was fine.”
Mary doesn’t keep track of how many blankets she has tied over the years. For her, it’s not about how many were completed but how much they help out our veterans when the blankets are used in Rainbow’s veteran pinning ceremonies.
“Jill tells everybody, you can come and cut the quilts, but you can’t tie them, that’s for Mary,” Neff said. “This is perfect for me. I know that people appreciate them. I know that it’s going to a good cause.”
“Mary is a perfect example of how volunteers make the world a better place,” said Radke. “She generously donates her time and talents to us and is just a joy to talk to and her positive energy is contagious. We are lucky to have her volunteer with us.”
Mary encourages others to find volunteer opportunities that they’re passionate about.
“It doesn’t require a lot of time,” Neff said. “There’s all kinds of people out there that need help. It gives me a good feeling in my heart to know that I’m helping somebody and giving them some joy.”