The Recipes of Life – A Volunteer’s Journey

Hospice of Santa Cruz County Volunteer Visitor
Volunteer Visitor Denine Jones

Sometimes an experience in life inspires us to change directions.  Denine Jones had one of those experiences toward the end of her father-in-law’s life. While spending time with him in the hospital, she realized her calling – to become a nurse. As she was helping to honor her father-in-law’s end-of-life wishes, it became clearer that her interest was in hospice care. “I just want to support and empower people who are dying and do what I can to improve their quality of life,” explains Denine.

And that’s exactly what Denine is doing. She has been a Volunteer Visitor for three years, in addition to being a nursing student at San Jose State. “It feels good. It feels like I’m doing exactly what I want to do – empowering people to be autonomous and do the things that are important to them.”

Every Saturday Denine spends four hours visiting with Rita. Their time together is well planned – they bake. Before her illness, Rita was a caterer and her favorite thing to do was bake. As her brain cancer has progressed, Rita has lost the use of her left side and can’t see out of her left eye, making it dangerous for her to do her most cherished activity. “Imagine having all that taken away from you,” says Denine. With this volunteer’s support, Rita is back in charge of her kitchen. “Rita supervises me and tells me what to do. And, she loves serving people – it gives her so much satisfaction to give the gift of food,” she adds. Their delicious creations are offered to visitors and friends who stop by to help with odd jobs and chores.

Rita was reluctant to accept a volunteer visitor at first. “I told them I don’t want a Volunteer Visitor who wants to sit all day. I want someone who wants to bake!” She quickly came to cherish her time with Denine and has shared some of her prized recipes with her volunteer. “She is so willing to learn and do. I sit in my wheelchair in my kitchen and I hover over her,” explains Rita. “We usually make two pies so Denine can be part of it. I like to send one home with her.”

Denine has been inspired by her baking afternoons. Back at home, she is now sharing Rita’s recipes with her 15-year-old daughter. “I’m going to get an old fashioned box to put her recipes in.” Denine’s eyes well up as she speaks about her time with Rita. “It’s wonderful to bake with her and bring home these treats to my family – I feel as if I’m sharing Rita’s legacy.” Their time together is also precious to Rita. “I can’t cook and I can’t bake anymore,” she says tearfully. “It makes me feel good that I can get back into it a little bit and at least I can see my baking get done. It makes me feel like a part of things again,” adds Rita.

And so their Saturday baking days continue. “It’s extremely important for me to bake with Rita. She’s still giving and useful. I feel like it’s a gift for both of us,” shares Denine.

What a beautiful gift the recipes of life are.


Hospice of Santa Cruz County is currently looking for friendly, compassionate men and women to volunteer to give support directly to patients and their families in their homes and in Skilled Nursing Facilities and/or Residential Care Facilities throughout Santa Cruz County.

Hospice volunteers are a remarkable and dedicated group of individuals and an essential part of our team. Volunteers are drawn to hospice for different reasons, yet they share a common desire – to be of service and help others at this precious time of life. Hospice of Santa Cruz County volunteers visit patients, support loved ones during their grief, and assist in our office. They also speak about hospice services in the community, and join together to present exciting fundraising events. Volunteers who do massage therapy are especially needed.

Click to visit Hospice of Santa Cruz County Volunteer page for more details.