Nine years ago, the Rev. Shawn Kafader walked through the doors of Friendship Village in Schaumburg with his Takamine guitar strapped to his back and a song in his heart.
The 55-year-old, self-taught musician from Mount Prospect had a clear mission. Through music he was there to inspire and bring joy to the senior care facility's more than 1,000 residents.
He uses music and his operatic, baritone voice to bring joy to residents. Mixing songs of faith with golden oldies such as "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," "In the Good' Ol Summertime" and "You Are My Sunshine," he hopes to spark memories, taking them back to their younger days.
Kafader prides himself on addressing each resident by their first name, as he did one morning before a worship service.
"Good morning Jean, hello Helen, Lorraine, peace be with you today," Kafader calls out as he strums his guitar. Resident Emily Miraldi, 94, describes Kafader's ministry as helpful.
"It works for the people that can't get out," Miraldi says.
He walks the hallways recruiting residents for worship.
"If I don't get them, I have an empty house," he says.
He also visits daily with the residents, greeting them, learning about them; they're all special in his eyes. Some have dementia, while others are unresponsive. Others are full of life and greet him with a hearty fist bump.
As chaplain he serves people of all religious faiths and church denominations. Visiting the sick or dying in the hospital and comforting their families is just one of the ways he reaches people in their time of need.
He wears no religious symbols that set him apart from the average layperson. In his daily rounds, he dresses like a regular guy only wearing his vestments for services and such special occasions as blessing the hands of the staff. He says this blessing allows them to do good work and pay it forward.
Kafader says he felt a call from God and the urge to go into the ministry during his eighth-grade confirmation class. These days he uses his music in his work at Friendship Village.
His love is infectious, helping him connect with all residents even those not looking for religious guidance.
The residents respond to him with a hearty shout or even a kiss on the hand as he visits them in their rooms. It's all about connecting.