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May Volunteer of the Month: Brenda Hansen

The Greater Philadelphia Chapter covers a large territory, from Ocean City, NJ, to Tioga County, PA. Perhaps no volunteer has traveled as far to support our ALS mission as Brenda Hansen, our May Volunteer of the Month.

Brenda was first introduced to ALS through her career as a Respiratory Therapist. Even though she had first-hand medical knowledge, nothing could prepare her enough as when her husband was diagnosed with ALS in 2006. He lived with ALS for just 15 months and passed away at age 45 in their hometown area of Spokane, Washington. At the time, Brenda and her husband had a daughter in middle school and a son in college.

“I will never forget that empty, helpless feeling leaving the doctor’s office with his ALS diagnosis,” remembers Brenda. “I quit my job to stay home and take care of him.”

While Brenda left the doctor’s office feeling helpless, she quickly saw that there were many kind-hearted people who were ready to comfort and assist her family. They had a local ALS Service Organization in Spokane, which included valuable support groups and experts who eased some stress and provided critical guidance and resources during those 15 months.

Today, 16 years after losing her husband to ALS, Brenda still remembers how people delivered meals and helped with house cleaning and dog walking. The most generous gift was the gift of time and attention. Of all the kindness she received during that time, the most important was the home visits from people who understood what she was going through and showed that they cared.

Those visits left a lasting impact on Brenda and her family. She has been a volunteer ever since. Her children also volunteer in any way that they can, including her daughter, who is active with the ALS mission in Minnesota.

When Brenda moved to the Philadelphia area in 2016, she quickly looked for ways to continue to give back to the ALS cause. She reached out to Chapter nurse Gail Houseman, RN, CNS-BC, and learned about the Chapter’s Visiting Volunteer program. Since joining the Chapter, Brenda has been a Visiting Volunteer for three different people with ALS and plans to continue her service.

Just as when people came to her home years ago, Brenda views her time as a Visiting Volunteer as a chance to listen to those with ALS and give them some friendship when they need it most. She recognizes how important it is to let someone feel at ease, especially in their own home. This experience as a Visiting Volunteer has been highly rewarding for Brenda, who says it improved both her physical and mental health. She cherishes the ability to help others and the patients she visits cherish the time she gives to them.

Brenda says that she hopes she can take some of the stress away by just offering a smile, but she offers so much more. In our daily lives, it is common to listen to others just to look for an opening to talk, but Brenda understands the value of true listening. Far too often, people with ALS can feel separated from the greater world, especially in recent times, and Brenda brings the best of the world right to them.

The volunteer experience has inspired Brenda to do more with the Chapter and she looks forward to upcoming events like the ALS Patient and Family Day at Longwood Gardens. It is a perfect opportunity to “stop and smell the roses” and to be present in the lives of others.

All of us at The Greater Philadelphia Chapter are grateful to Brenda Hansen for being present in our lives and for being present in the lives of those living with ALS. Thank you, Brenda, for all that you do as a volunteer for the ALS cause.

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