Why We Volunteer: Youngest Family Member Follows Multi-generation Service Tradition

Lynn Larussa & Honey
Lynn LaRussa and Honey visit with a patient at the Bruno Cancer Center.

Honey can barely wait to see her friends again. By early 2020 Honey, the youngest (and furriest) member of Benny and Lynn LaRussa’s family, had visited Ascension St. Vincent’s Bruno Cancer Center every week for more than two years. When she and Lynn routinely exited the Center’s door in March, they couldn’t imagine a pandemic preventing volunteers from reentering the place they love for more than a year.

“Honey began visiting Ascension St. Vincent’s in December 2017, when she was just barely three,” Lynn says. “As one of Hand in Paw’s youngest therapy dogs, she loved going to visit the patients, families, and Bruno Cancer Center staff. We both wore a uniform, and she would get so excited when I got her yellow scarf out of the closet.”

While this golden retriever and her brother play exuberantly at home, Honey was known for her calm demeanor while volunteering. “She was always on leash, always with me, and always accompanied by Oncology Counselor Louis Josof, who guided us to those most likely to enjoy her,” Lynn says. “Honey can sense who needs her, and she just lets people stroke her soft fur. If they really connect, Honey will roll on her back and let them rub her tummy or snuggle. Each week we spent two hours making our way with Louis through the waiting and treatment areas, and you could see people just being transported mentally to Honey’s happy place. They would start taking pictures with Honey and showing us pictures of their pets. I’ve had people stop me on the street to say, ‘My friend met Honey, your dog, at the Bruno Cancer Center!’”

Honey’s Ascension St. Vincent’s service runs in the family. It was the generosity of Joe and Theresa Bruno, Benny’s grandparents, that enabled Ascension St. Vincent’s to establish the Bruno Cancer Center in 1989. The extended family’s support is memorialized within numerous Ascension St. Vincent’s ministry sites, while the current generation continues the family tradition via its own time-talent-treasure investment in Ascension St. Vincent’s healing ministry.

“It was just natural that we wanted to volunteer,” says Lynn. “I’ve had cancer in my family, and we’ve had family members treated at the Center. It’s very important to us that we give our time. My mother-in-law, Anne LaRussa (daughter of Joe and Theresa Bruno), first told me about Hand in Paw, and urged me to look into it. We’ve seen how people benefit from loving on a dog. The Cancer Center associates have been so supportive, because they know Honey has lots of love to give. It’s hard to see people suffering, but good to know we’re doing something. After all, everyone – including Honey – can do a little something. Volunteering is just a great way to give back.”

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