Volunteering at BBH

Volunteer Makes Connections

It’s the early morning rush at Bailey-Boushay House, and volunteer Antonio Guadamuz is helping serve breakfast and greet clients in the big room. Antonio knows many of the outpatient program clients, who receive daily treatment for HIV/AIDS and other support services from Bailey-Boushay. Near the big room there are showers and a new laundry room with washing machines built to handle shoes and sleeping bags – a recent addition to help clients experiencing homelessness. Sitting down for a meal is Antonio’s chance to catch up with the people he’s come to know over nearly a year of volunteering.

image description Antonio Guadamuz, BBH volunteer (left) and client.

“I enjoy it because it’s a really nice start to my day,” says Antonio. “I meet such a wide range of people, from different backgrounds and different parts of the country. It’s really fun to sit with them and hear their stories.”

Antonio knew he wanted to volunteer in health care after setting his sights on medical school, following a successful career as a sales manager in a small import business. His goal was to work directly with patients, to get a deeper sense of people’s lives. What if he challenged himself to listen hard about experiences very different from his own? For Antonio, the possibility represented one of many pathways to becoming the kind of doctor he envisioned.

After the breakfast service Antonio helps clean up, then heads upstairs where some of the inpatient residents are starting their day. Residents at Bailey-Boushay receive care in a home-like setting for complex illnesses, from complications of HIV/AIDS, to life-limiting diseases including cancer, ALS and Huntington’s disease. Antonio knocks on familiar patient doors to see who’s up for a visit, to talk or just hang out. He looks forward to spending time with the Spanish-speaking residents, who are happy to converse with Antonio in fluent Spanish.

“If we want to improve health outcomes, we need to engage people to really know what they’re going through.”

“Because volunteering is a weekly commitment, you start to build relationships,” says Antonio. “You find yourself connecting on a deeper level with people. Being at Bailey-Boushay gives you the opportunity to understand and empathize with their joys and struggles.”

One reason Bailey-Boushay succeeds in filling in the gaps for vulnerable populations — from shelter, food and medical care, to life skills and housing — is a collective focus on the same mission. Everyone, says Antonio, from the nurses and care managers, to the kitchen staff and volunteers are invested in improving people’s lives. The clients also have a sense of responsibility to the Bailey-Boushay community, to follow their treatment, respect the rules and participate in a system designed to empower them.

Antonio sees the Bailey-Boushay “people first” model of care as something health care should aspire to. Not to see individuals as their condition, but with all the complexities that come from living the events of their lives. It’s an example of how care that honors the whole patient is possible, despite the constraints of the health care system. And where it can start is with conversation: the kind Antonio has with clients and residents.

“If we want to improve health outcomes, we need to engage people to really know what they’re going through,” says Antonio. “Bailey-Boushay is a great place to just come and listen. It’s where I hope we push ourselves as a culture, to see people as people, not others.”

Antonio points out that volunteers at Bailey-Boushay have choices in how they contribute. There are opportunities to provide client and resident companionship, assistance with mealtimes or with daily group activities and events. The opening of the night shelter in November 2018 — the first homeless shelter in King County specifically designed to serve people with HIV — created new hours and ways to volunteer. The constant is that every volunteer at Bailey-Boushay receives the guidance and support to feel invested as a member of the care team.

For anyone who might feel trepidation about volunteering, wondering how it would go meeting people of different backgrounds and life histories, Antonio can share what he’s learned.

“We relate to each other based on experiences and if we’ve never had that experience, we worry it will be hard,” says Antonio. “But we all struggle in some way, we all have light and dark. Recognizing that connection closes the distance between us.”

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