Welcome Home: End-of-life care for those in need

An organisation in Tennessee provides a place of healing for the homeless who are terminally ill.

by Sarah Obenauer

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Welcome Home provides shelter for the homeless who are terminally ill. © Sarah Obenauer

Nonprofits continue to shine a light on the problems that those in our towns and cities face. These are problems that can be hard to imagine like what happens to those experiencing a terminal illness when they are homeless?

This is a question that Sherry Campbell, co-founder of Welcome Home, is working to answer each day. Sherry spends her days with the residents she calls friends  —  sitting, talking and enjoying a meal. She makes the final days for her friends warm, kind and loving, in a home with others around them.

Sherry was a social worker for many years at a local hospice and kept meeting people who were dying without treatment, a home, and ultimately without hope.

People were dying in their cars, behind buildings and on the street. The situation continued to worsen as nursing homes began moving toward rehabilitative care, leaving very few beds for hospice care.

“There are no other options for people who have a terminal illness and have nowhere to go for end of life care. We could no longer ignore this issue and a solution had to be developed,” Sherry said.

In 2014, Sherry and a small group of her friends and colleagues started their journey. They met with key stakeholders including hospitals, hospices, agencies serving the homeless and other nonprofits organisations to learn and garner support for their efforts.

“People, prayers and persistence” is what Sherry attributes to their success.

Welcome Home relies on volunteers to help around the house and offer companionship to the residents. Their volunteers come from all walks of life and range from age 14 to 89.

“They come to love and give. That always renews me, knowing that I am surrounded by the most beautiful and giving people on the planet,” Sherry said.

Volunteers can be found spending time with residents, cooking meals or maintaining the house. They graciously dedicate their time to making the house a true home for everyone there.

“We would not be up and running today without our volunteers,” Sherry said.

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Sherry Campbell is one of the co-founders of Welcome Home. © Sarah Obenauer

While the subject may appear grim, the Welcome Home house is anything but. It is filled with a level of light, joy and love that is visible to any visitors that walk through the door.

On our first trip to the house, we joined the residents and volunteers for dinner. As we gathered around the table, we saw a volunteer zipping down the hallway with a resident in a wheelchair. They came to an abrupt stop at the dinner table and the resident looked up at us, smiled and said “That was fun!”

We were laughing about this later with Sherry and she told us that, “if she’s stuck in a wheelchair, she should never have to have a boring ride.”

There are no shortage of stories like this at Welcome Home. The residents and volunteers join together each night at the dinner table to enjoy a meal prepared by volunteers or donated by local restaurants.

As a source of inspiration, Sherry looks to the residents that share this important time in their lives. While many people have a bucket list with activities like bungee jumping or traveling the world, reconciliation with family members is at the top of the bucket list for Welcome Home residents.

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Volunteers of Welcome Home range from different age groups. © Sarah Obenauer

“Seeing such bravery and courage as they face their terminal illness and do the things that are important to them for a peaceful death. Reconciliation with family members and friends is one of those things. To witness that reconciliation is incredible,” Sherry said.

This reconciliation spans states with brothers, sisters, fathers, daughters, mothers and sons reconnecting with loved ones that they haven’t spoken to in years.

Sherry and her team work with area hospices, hospitals and agencies that serve those who are homeless. They do outreach in the community to find and serve individuals in need of their support.

“Connection with those who are admitted to Welcome Home includes ensuring they understand what Welcome Home is about before they come to live here, respecting and honoring their path and ensuring we understand what they want us to know about them to best take care of them.”

Sherry would love to see the Welcome Home model replicated across the state of Tennessee, the United States of America and beyond.

“I would love to replicate or help others replicate what we are doing. There is such a need,” Sherry said.

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One of the residents of Welcome Home. © Sarah Obenauer

Welcome Home is focused on their mission of caring for those who are terminally ill, but see the need for another agency to take the lead so no one is discharged from a hospital back to living on the streets without a home.

Sherry’s advice to anyone wanting to solve a problem or start their own organisation? “Listen to the naysayers, they might have some good points, but surround yourself with the cheerleaders.”

Sarah Obenauer is the founder of Make A Mark, a nonprofit that helps nonprofits with design, branding, and technology strategies. She studied journalism and communications in Virginia Tech before founding her own nonprofit. 

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