How Fox Valley Hands of Hope helps people grieving a loss

 
By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted5/23/2018 11:05 AM
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  • Geneva-based Fox Valley Hands of Hope, powered by a dedicated staff and a legion of trained volunteers, is dedicated to providing practical, spiritual and emotional support to individuals and their families dealing with loss of life.

    Geneva-based Fox Valley Hands of Hope, powered by a dedicated staff and a legion of trained volunteers, is dedicated to providing practical, spiritual and emotional support to individuals and their families dealing with loss of life. Courtesy of Fox Valley Hands of Hope

  • More than 800 people are expected to attend the 20th Annual Garden Party, which takes place Friday, May 25, at the Q Center in St. Charles. The annual fundraiser is spearheaded by volunteers, who design and build nearly 20 raffle showcases and secure nearly 100 silent and live auction items. All proceeds benefit Fox Valley Hands of Hope.

    More than 800 people are expected to attend the 20th Annual Garden Party, which takes place Friday, May 25, at the Q Center in St. Charles. The annual fundraiser is spearheaded by volunteers, who design and build nearly 20 raffle showcases and secure nearly 100 silent and live auction items. All proceeds benefit Fox Valley Hands of Hope. Courtesy of Fox Valley Hands of Hope

  • A volunteer handler and therapy dog, at right,  offer comfort at a recent Herbie's Friends support group session.

    A volunteer handler and therapy dog, at right, offer comfort at a recent Herbie's Friends support group session. Courtesy of Fox Valley Hands of Hope

  • Fox Valley Hands of Hope logo

    Fox Valley Hands of Hope logo

A loved one facing a life-threatening illness and, even worse, the death of a loved one are two of the toughest situations a person will ever deal with.

Since 1981, a gem of an organization in the Fox Valley has stepped to the plate and then some to help those experiencing grief and loss.

Geneva-based Fox Valley Hands of Hope, powered by a dedicated staff and a legion of trained volunteers, is committed to providing practical, spiritual and emotional support to individuals and their families dealing with loss of life.

Since starting as Fox Valley Hospice nearly four decades ago, the group continues to support the volunteer hospice function, while also expanding into bereavement and loss programs.

"We still support the volunteer hospice function that is very important to us and we continue to provide support to folks dealing with death and loss," Fox Valley Hands of Hope Executive Director Greg Weider said. "We also provide support ranging from people going through chemotherapy to people who need wheelchairs. We have a full plate to offer our communities."

Fox Valley Hands of Hope reaches those in need throughout Kane and Kendall counties as well as parts of DuPage County.

Weider noted Fox Valley Hands of Hope has eight staff members, including five full-time individuals. However, without its large roster of volunteers, Weider said the enormity of the services the group offers would be a fraction of what it is today.

In 2017, Fox Valley Hands of Hope had 336 volunteers. He estimates the group serves about 2,000 individuals a year.

"We are volunteer-based," Weider said. "Volunteers play a very important role here. Without the core volunteer commitment we have it would be very challenging to meet the needs of those we serve. The volunteers help us by providing support to the services and programs we offer."

Fox Valley Hands of Hope, which provides all services and programs free to individuals, is funded through donations, small endowments, grant writing and through events that it puts on throughout the year. The group's major Garden Party gala takes place May 25 in St. Charles at the Q Center (see sidebar).

"All our services are free," said Weider. "These special events are volunteer-driven and help us provide the services free of charge in the community."

Bilingual outreach

The group continues to expand its healing reach thanks to several key initiatives, including expanding its services to help those in the Hispanic community who do not speak English.

"Cuenta Conmigo translates to 'lean on me,'" Weider said. "We provide translation for our Spanish-speaking clients. We have groups where the communication is all in Spanish. If anybody has a need, we are able to find a way to help them. Our Cuenta Conmigo program helps a couple hundred people a year that might go unserved if we didn't offer that type of support."

The Rev. Mike Rassici of Calvary Episcopal Church in Batavia has been volunteering with Fox Valley Hands for Hope for more than 12 years and uses his bilingual skills to help those in need. He's a volunteer chaplain for the group and also facilitates its Spanish support groups.

"We've continuously tried to serve minority communities and have made good contacts within the Hispanic community," he said. "These are people who were underserved. Many people suffer from the effects of terminal illness and grief and some have no place to take their bereavement beyond their own clergy or family. We're providing a caring community that has experience and expertise with the stress and emotional fallout of these traumatic events. This is something that might not readily be available and we're able to offer that to communities that might otherwise not be reached."

Therapy dogs

Fox Valley Hands of Hope also utilizes therapy dogs in its menu of grief and support services. "A number of our volunteers have trained service dogs who provide pet therapy," said Weider. "The dogs are an important part of what we do."

Maple Park resident Marv Kombrink has been volunteering at Fox Valley Hands of Hope for five years and is involved in the therapy dog end of things.

"I was at one of the meetings and they mentioned they needed people with dogs because some had retired or passed on," recalled Kombrink, who also works with people with special needs. "At the same time I was training a 6-month-old Lab named Rose. The trainer lady said she thought Rose would be good with therapy work because she is a special dog with her caring and sensitivity to others. Right there, it was kind of like someone was trying to tell me something."

Kombrink later added Harry, a standard poodle and show dog.

"When we were training Harry for therapy work, he was a lot different than Rose," he said with a laugh. "The trainer said it wasn't the dog, it was me. I had to work on being a pack leader. Rose brings a calming effect to the groups and Harry brings a lot of energy. We use them based on the needs of the group."

Looking ahead

Looking at the future, Weider would like to see Fox Valley Helping Hands continue to expand its program reach.

"A lot of our programs have expanded this year," he said. "Short-term, I'd like to see us continue to have program growth. "I think of us as a good community partner whether it's with schools, churches or providing that hospice service. Anybody that has a need, we want to work with to provide them a service or help and work toward creating that new normal. Longer-term, I'd like to see us expand our service areas as resources present themselves so we can serve even more people."

Rassici said Fox Valley Hands of Hope is as powerful as it has ever been in terms of the help it provides.

"Their impact is greater in terms of the work they do with people," he said. "They have continued to grow and change as the word of care has grown and changed. They continue to reach out to those struggling with terminal disease, but they now have a much greater reach with people who are bereaved. They have touched so many people affected by loss in the last several years."

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