Brian Silsbury

Brian Silsbury volunteers with Hospice of Santa Barbara, an experience he finds rewarding and educational.

Like many other sports car owners, Brian Silsbury loves to drive with the top down and see the sights. What sets him apart is that he also likes to share that experience with those who don’t have a chance to get out much.

Silsbury, who lives in Carpinteria, is a patient care volunteer with Hospice of Santa Barbara, and his job is visiting patients while providing respite for their caregivers—often spouses. In the case of one man he met with for four years, that meant cruising Santa Barbara in Silsbury’s blue-gray Miata.

“I would take him along State Street, top down, have an ice cream and watch the boats,” Silsbury says. “We just chatted. Mostly I listened to him—I was learning a lot.”

Hospice of Santa Barbara is known as a social model hospice, providing free practical, social, emotional and spiritual care for anyone impacted by serious illness or anyone grieving the death of a loved one. This type of hospice serves people at any stage of their illness, regardless of treatment choices, and it even serves those who may recover from their illness.

Here’s a closer look at some of Silsbury’s volunteer experiences with Hospice of Santa Barbara.

Q: Why do you volunteer?

A: I was born in ‘37, and I lived through the blitz in England, so I consider myself very lucky. One of the reasons I do this volunteer work is that I want to pay back society. I’m paying it back and perhaps paying it forward.

Q: What activities do you do when you visit a hospice patient?

A: It depends on the patient and the caregiver. Sometimes I mostly provide a break for the caregiver. Other times, it’s just for the patient. With one couple, the husband had dementia. While I was there, his wife would go to Bible study, and I would read the Bible to him.

Another wife used to enjoy going out with friends once a week. Her husband couldn’t be left alone, so I visited him. He had been a sailor. I would take him out for a walk, and I would use sailing terms with him. I just try to help make the people’s lives richer and more interesting.

Q: How do you begin as a volunteer?

A: When you start with hospice, you have an interview and a six-week training course. It’s very rigorous regarding what you can and can’t do. After the training course, you’ll know whether it’s a good fit for you or whether it isn’t.

Then, they look at you and match you up with a potential patient. They talk to you about the person, and you go meet them. Either one—the volunteer or the patient—can say no. Neither one is under an obligation.

Next, a plan of care is developed, and it’s reviewed every three months. You’re working with that plan as a guideline—it sets the tenor of what you do for the person. You always can go back to the director with questions. It’s important that volunteers aren’t on their own.

Q: Why do you enjoy this work?

A: You really get to know the people and develop mutual respect. I learn a lot from them. For instance, the man I visited for four years taught me about Latino culture. I even loaded my iPod with mariachi music.

I also enjoy the reception from people—seeing their face when I say, “What are we going to do today?”

Q: What skills are important for this job?

A: Compassion and listening skills are important. You have to listen to what people are actually saying. And you need to be flexible. You might have what you think is a good idea that doesn’t work out.

Q: Would you recommend this volunteer work to other people?

A: Yes, I would recommend it. It’s very rewarding. Learning about life is the rewarding part. The hard part is saying goodbye. We provide long term care, but volunteers still have to be prepared to say goodbye the day they walk in the door.

You Can Help

Hospice of Santa Barbara welcomes volunteers in many capacities. The next training sessions for patient care volunteers will be held on six consecutive Wednesdays from Oct. 4 through Nov. 8. To learn more, visit or contact Nicole Romasanta at 563-8820.

Barbara Dunlap is a journalist and the founder of GrandNannies, a babysitting service in Carpinteria. For more information, call 541.952.9007 or visit

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