May is Older Americans Month, an observance that provides an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the contributions of older individuals. 

Every Wednesday at 7 a.m., Bernice Dinion leaves her home in the southernmost region of Fairfax County and joins throngs of other drivers on I-95. Yet unlike most of her fellow travelers, Bernice’s 40-mile round trip is a labor of love, not a professional obligation.

Bernice, who just turned 90 in January, is a volunteer at Capital Caring, the region’s leading nonprofit provider of hospice and palliative care and grief counseling services. And ever since she retired in 1994, she’s been contributing her time and talents to help nurses and other staff provide compassionate care for patients with advanced illness and their family members.

Altogether, she has spent 24 years as an extra set of hands at the hospice, which relies upon a cadre of volunteers to help fulfill its mission. Capital Caring estimates Bernice has logged more than 5,300 hours doing everything from changing bed linens to sitting and talking with patients, from filling water pitchers to consoling loved ones.

The need for such care is great, as underscored by the following facts:

  • An estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months.
  • One in eight full-time workers in the U.S. are caregivers.
  • The average age of the caregiver is 49 years old and the majority are female (60%).

Looking back on her years of experience in caring for others, Bernice sums it up best. “To me, the end of life is just as important as the beginning. You need someone to be around, to be with you. I just can’t imagine what life was like before hospice care.”

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Capital Caring, visit: https://www.capitalcaring.org/get-involved/become-a-volunteer/