It started with simple companionship, and grew into a passion project.
About a year ago, HopeHealth volunteer Erin Hazlett began visiting with Ruth Rotenberg, 96, at her home in Laurelmead, a senior living community in Providence. During these visits, Erin would read the New York Times aloud. Often, the articles sparked memories from Ruth’s life, especially her experiences at Laurelmead. Ruth and her husband, Leonard, had joined the active community in 2003. The years since had been filled with fundraisers, dinner parties, poker games, committee work, and most of all, the strong bonds of friendship. Ruth told Erin stories about how her friends supported and comforted one another during times of grief and shared a passion for philanthropy and helping others.
“I could hear how important these stories were to Ruth,” said Erin. She asked if she could help Ruth record her memories in a notebook.
It became a favorite activity for Ruth—and Leonard, too. During the final months of Leonard’s life, husband and wife spent months recounting what Ruth called the “Golden Years” of their time at Laurelmead. Together, they reminisced about the moments that had shaped their life.
Volunteers’ skills, personal touch make a difference for patients
In countless ways, HopeHealth volunteers find ways to help patients leave a legacy and honor their life. They are matched with roles that align their unique skills and gifts. For some, that means bringing music or art into a patient’s life, praying together, or helping care for a beloved pet. For others, it can be helping in HopeHealth’s administrative offices or lending a hand at community events.
At first, Erin made a difference in Ruth’s life by simply encouraging her to share her memories. Eventually, it turned into a way for Ruth to share those memories with others.
“My role as a volunteer was to listen.” – Erin Hazlett, hospice volunteer
After Leonard passed away in July 2021, Ruth and Erin continued to recount and record stories about people who were important to both Ruth and Leonard. They interviewed other residents at Laurelmead about their memories. As a result of Ruth’s health issues, she has a quiet voice and a difficult time hearing, making communication difficult, especially with aging friends. She created a set of questions for each participant and Erin served as interviewer, carefully recording each story.
The notebook slowly evolved into a book, designed by a friend of Erin’s and with photos that Ruth selected. Ruth titled it, The Golden Years at Laurelmead: The Story of Building Community Identity.
“I wanted to write this book to pass down the memories of Laurelmead,” said Ruth. “The memories of the people I’ve met throughout the years who have enriched our lives.”
“I never expected that this would be the final product of our time together, but Ruth had a vision,” said Erin. “My role as a volunteer was to listen and act as a conduit for that vision.”
At 96, patient publishes legacy with volunteer’s help
In March, Ruth celebrated her book in the library at Laurelmead. Her friends and family were there to commemorate the achievement. Erin and Ruth’s caregiver, Betty, were on hand too. Erin spoke of their process and time together. Ruth signed copies of her book, which will be displayed on the resident author shelf in the library at Laurelmead for future residents to enjoy.
HopeHealth volunteers like Erin share their special skills and talents to bring comfort and joy to patients and their caregivers. In Erin and Ruth’s case, what started with simple companionship turned into a deeply meaningful project for Ruth and her loved ones. Erin’s dedication gave Ruth the motivation, and the means, to record her personal legacy.
“I had the good fortune of meeting Erin,” said Ruth. “She gave me the inspiration to continue, especially in the times when I felt a little lost.”