Local couple helps promote hospice benefit raffle

MIDDLEBURY — Hawaii is half a world away from Vermont. Folks there hardly ever see snow, let alone sugar-on-snow. But the nation’s 50th state is proving to be a powerful magnet in an annual fundraising effort for Addison County’s two providers of hospice care.
We’re talking about the eighth annual Vacation Getaway Raffle that will benefit Hospice Volunteer Services (HVS) and the Addison County Home Health & Hospice (ACHHH) organizations, both based in Middlebury. First prize — thanks to Milne Travel — is once again two round-trip tickets for a week-long stay in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s a dream destination for a lot of Vermonters who are trying to thaw out from one of the harshest winters in recent memory.
Last year’s winner was Middlebury resident Ron Slabaugh, who ironically is — along with his spouse, Margaret Olson — a longtime volunteer and supporter of Hospice Volunteer Services. They are charter members of Wellspring, the hospice group that sings to patients who are dying. They’ve been hospice helpers in the Pacific Northwest and have been involved with HVS since 2001. Olson has also served as a part-time bereavement support counselor at HVS for the past two-and-a-half years.
Hospice Volunteer Services provides variety of volunteer support services to terminally ill patients and their families, such as palliative patient care, bereavement support and public education. These programs are free and open to the Addison County public and are funded primarily by community donations, grants and fundraising events.
ACHHH provides clinical services and is funded in part by Medicare and insurance billing.
Slabaugh was among the volunteers who sold raffle tickets for last year’s Hawaii vacation, and is doing it again this year for a drawing slated for Saturday, March 21, during a lu’au party that will also benefit the two hospice organizations. Olson and Slabaugh were unable to make last year’s lu’au, making the news of their win an even a bigger shock.
“We came home to a message from Milne Travel … that Ron had the winning ticket,” Olson said.
“I think Ron had sold himself the first ticket in his group,” she added, and quipped: “There were several comments.”
Neither Slabaugh nor Olson have purchased a raffle ticket this year, in order to give other folks a chance at the grand prize. More than 1,000 tickets were printed for this year’s raffle.
“It would be embarrassing to win it again,” Slabaugh smiled.
“We always look at (our ticket purchase) as a donation for a beloved cause,” Olson said.
The couple’s trip to Hawaii, from which they returned last month, proved educational as well as fun. They broadened their trip to five weeks in order to make the most of their free ticket to the Big Island. During that time, Slabaugh and Olson visited Hawaii’s Kona Hospice and spoke with officials about how services are delivered there. Kona Hospice, like HVS, has 130 volunteers that are assisting more than 40 patients right now. Kona offers such services as a camp for children who have recently lost loved ones, as well as an “expressive arts” program for hospice families. That organization has a full-time bereavement services coordinator. Slabaugh and Olson have related their experiences to HVS officials here in Middlebury.
The couple is now looking forward to the upcoming lu’au party this Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Middlebury Inn. That party, open to 175 people, will feature local foods and spirits, prizes and an auction. Tickets for the lu’au and trip raffle are available at such locations as the Bristol Bakery, Carol’s Hungry Mind in Middlebury and Sweet Charity in Vergennes, as well as online at achhh.org, or by calling 388-7259.
It is clear that both Olson and Slabaugh consider their work on behalf of hospice to be fulfilling.
“It is a privilege to be with the dying,” Olson said. “On a self-centered level, it makes me live my life better. I am a better person because of the work that we do here at hospice. It is very meaningful work, and it is important for me to do meaningful work. I think people at this particular stage of life are very open and honest, so it’s a very heart-felt time of life.”
Slabaugh echoed those sentiments.
“To sit with somebody at that stage — there’s a kind of intimacy that you haven’t earned by knowing the person for years in life,” he said. “It’s a very special kind of thing. It has been a neglected part of health care … (hospice) is kind of a normalization of dying, and a community support of that.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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