John Nickles - vnatexas.org

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Bring a little more joy

John Nickles brings a little more joy than most volunteers. When you’re dressed up as Santa, it’s hard not to.

Becoming a “Santa” wasn’t something John had planned on doing. After having surgery on his hand a few years ago, he couldn’t shave. His granddaughter took a look at the bushy white whiskers and told him he looked like Santa. It seemed like a good idea, and before long his hair and beard were long enough for him to dress either as Santa or as Santa’s historical inspiration St. Nicholas.

John had volunteered for hospice care before, back when he lived in Austin, and again in Montana when he moved there during the ‘90s. Now that he was retired – and a Santa – he wanted to volunteer again. He first approached VNA’s Collin County branch last year about volunteering, but it was too close to Christmas to become certified as a VNA Volunteer.

John didn’t let that stop him. He became a VNA Volunteer and started out by helping with VNA SafeHaven in Collin County, a multi-week program meant to help grieving children. While at VNA SafeHaven, he left the Santa costume at home. “VNA SafeHaven is all about the kids and helping them with their grief and sadness,” John said. “When I show up in costume, suddenly it’s all about me, and that’s not where the focus should be.”

Things are different when volunteering for hospice patients, John said. “When I’m Santa, all I have to do is walk into the room and ‘ho-ho-ho’ and suddenly everyone is happy. It can immediately dispel any tension or anxiety in the room.”

Though John has only been a VNA Volunteer for a short time, he’s glad he took the initiative to become involved. “VNA plays a vital role in the great circle of life,” John said. “Most people are afraid of death and choose not to talk about it. When one accepts the finality of the situation, there’s a group of multi-disciplined people who can allay their fears and help them through the process. I’m very glad to be part of such an organization.”

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