A Model of Compassion
“I thought there had to be a better way,” says Peggy Gillespie, full time nurse and co-founder of Serenity House.
In the spring of 2002, working as a staff nurse at Elgin General in St Thomas Ontario, Gillespie realized that a dying patient needed “closer observation and more specialized attention” than was available. “It’s more time than a staff nurse could afford to give.” Opening Serenity House was her creative response.
Serenity House is newly located at St Johns Anglican Church, 20 Flora St., St. Thomas and provides an emotional support system for those who have been diagnosed with terminal illness. Services also include outreach to their families and caregivers. Gillespie contends, “More people have passed away without our help then I care to count. We can make some peoples journey a little better.”
Serenity House was established on the principles of “holistic care” and is accredited through the Ontario Hospice Palliative Care Association. And through a seat at table with the Elgin Hospice Palliative Coalition, maintains professional ties within the community.
“We focus not on the disease but everything that matters to the person with the disease,” Gillespie explains, “In so many ways a persons life is changed by a terminal diagnosis and it is our intention to bring quality to the remaining time in their lives.”
Serenity House offers a caring and compassionate place to connect with needed resources. The staff is knowledgeable and their office walls lined with referral pamphlets and informative material. Serenity House provides ongoing palliative training for its entire staff.
Serenity House is set up to assist family and friends who are attending to a loved one with terminal illness. Gillespie, who, also teaches a Palliative Care program at the local college stated, “People can be adversely affected, for the rest of their lives, by the experience. Often it takes someone skilled through specialized training to help the caregivers.”
Francine Yolkowskie, V.P. at a local public school, came to St. Thomas 2 years ago to support her terminally ill sister. And after “having lived the hospital experience”, was greatly appreciative for the support of Serenity House.
“I never had to be a caregiver like this before. Everybody at Serenity had a story to share and you felt someone was available who understood what you were going through.”
Yolkowskie, an experienced charities volunteer, and the current Director of Human Resources at Serenity, decided, “to give back” to the agency. She states, “Taking care of the caregivers is an important task and is an increasing focus of the agency.” She feels strongly that one of the agencies “biggest hurdles” is educating the public to the available resources. “Too many are going through the dying process and know of no where to turn for help.”
The Board of Directors is looking to the future with hopes of hiring a Coordinator of Volunteers. And within 5 years, establish a residential Hospice to meet the needs of Elgin County.
Funding is always an issue and, as shared by Yolkowskie, so is the need for volunteers.
“Death is a part of life. It’s not a dark subject but a fact of life. The work is not all doom and gloom.
There is a lot of joy here too!“