May 2018 Volunteer of the Month

Rey D'Onofrio

rey-donofrio-may-2018
Rey D’Onofrio wanted to "do: good" for others. He just did not realize that the "others" he would help would be people with ALS.

Until 2010, Rey knew very little about ALS. His wife, Daria, had been dealing with a strange issue with her foot, which he believed stemmed from a car accident. Then she started to slur her speech, which even her students noticed while she was teaching. Following that, she had trouble swallowing.

Eventually, her other foot presented problems as well.

For the next year, Rey was his wife’s caregiver. He retired from his job and used his time and compassion to assist Daria with whatever she needed.

Caregiving can be a hardship, but Rey did not complain. His wife was not receptive to help from others who offered, though they appreciated the concern and love from family and friends. Rey had some experience as a caregiver. When his oldest sister had health problems, he would visit and help her. When Rey’s dad was sick, he moved in with Rey for some time. Caregiving for Daria was the toughest job for Rey, but it was a job he took on without hesitation. "It was a labor of love," Rey said as he reflected on it.

Before ALS entered Rey’s life, he had a career working in finance. Rey’s compassionate nature helped him succeed in work by building relationships and listening to clients. He also worked with non-profits for over a decade on issues ranging from veterans’ health to domestic violence. Nothing could fully prepare him for ALS, but Rey was ready and willing to be a caregiver.

Daria passed away from ALS on April 27, 2011. She only visited her ALS Clinic a few times because the disease progressed so quickly. While Daria and Rey were at their local ALS clinic, they met Chapter nurse Gail Houseman, who talked about Chapter services and volunteer opportunities. Rey was interested in getting involved, but he wasn’t sure how and he wasn’t sure when.

"Gail contacted me and said ‘whenever you’re ready, we’ll be here,’" Rey recalls. "One year later, I called her back to tell her I was ready to help."

rey-donofrio-visiting-volunteers-may-2018In 2012, Gail connected Rey with the Visiting Volunteer program. She saw how patient he was as a caregiver and knew that there were people with ALS who needed someone to talk with and to make life a little easier. Since then, Rey has been a Visiting Volunteer for three different people with ALS in New Jersey. Sometimes he visits someone close to him, but he has even traveled over an hour away to stop in and spend time with a new friend. Rey knows how valuable time is and giving his time is one of the best gifts he can offer.

In addition to his work as a Visiting Volunteer, Rey has participated in the Walk to Defeat ALS, the Chapter's 40th Anniversary Gala, and other local Chapter events. In addition to donating money or helping as a volunteer, Rey loves seeing people he has not seen in months or even years. They share a bond that he wishes they did not have to share.

Rey loves to reconnect at the Visiting Volunteer breakfasts and meetings that Gail has organized. Connecting with others has always been one of Rey's favorite activities. He enjoys listening and learning and forming a bond with someone new. It worked for him in finance and it works for him as one of the Chapter's invaluable Visiting Volunteers.

Since 2011, lots of things have changed in Rey's life. He has devoted hundreds of hours of caring for others. He's also seen his family expand. When Daria was living with ALS, she had two grandchildren. Today, she would have five. Rey is committed to making sure that her grandchildren know about the kind of person she was and the best way he can do that through his own examples of how he helps others. Daria wrote and illustrated a book of ABC's for her first grandchild, Avery, and then worked to finish another for Mason. She quickly finished that book before ALS took her ability to hold a pencil. The kids still read those books today.

The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter is grateful to Rey for giving his time as a Visiting Volunteer. It is not an easy job, especially after Rey lived through the challenges of the disease and saw a loved one suffer. But knowing how hard ALS is for a patient and a caregiver is why Rey chooses to give back in this way.

Rey D'Onofrio plans to use his time in service to others. All of us are thankful for every minute that Rey can give.


 
 

The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter
321 Norristown Road - Suite 260, Ambler, PA 19002
215-643-5434

The ALS Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.