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Agrace HospiceCare News

103-Year-Old Spring Green Woman Fulfills Life-Long Goal

Marie Hunt graduationAs posted on, WMTV, Madison, WI

SPRING GREEN, Wis:---One hundred three-year-old Agrace HospiceCare patient Marie Hunt received her high school diploma Friday.

Marie Hunt is a life-long Spring Green resident. She said she had no way of getting to and from high school so she stayed home after 8th grade and helped raised her eight younger brothers and sisters.

She would have been a graduate of the River Valley High School's class of 1928.

Marie told her Agrace RN Debra Pfaff, "My biggest regret is not getting my high school diploma." Three of her siblings went to college, and she thinks she "might have been college material, too."

After hearing this, Debra immediately began to work with Marie's Agrace social worker, Laura Burden to plan this very special graduation celebration for Marie.

Dozens of Marie's friends and family members joined Marie at her home at the Meadows Assisted Living and Memory Care in Spring Green to watch Marie walk into the graduation ceremony. She wore a traditional cap and gown and received her River Valley High School diploma 87 years after classmates received theirs.

River Valley High School principal Kimbert Kauki, River Valley School Board President Kay Lynn Taylor and Superintendent Tom Wermuth gave Marie her honorary diploma.

Volunteers sit vigil with patients during their final hours

As written by Shelly Birkelo in The Gazette, January 26, 2015.

, Vigil Volunteer


Krause, who is strong in her Catholic faith.

She has no fear of dying, she said.

"I was comfortable enough to know the vigil volunteer program would be something that would provide me another chance to experience what a blessing it is to be in someone else's life at that point and to help them through their end-of-life journey," she said.
Krause is among 85 trained Agrace vigil volunteers. Ten of them serve Rock County patients, said Andy Boryczka, manager of volunteer services for Agrace.

"I'd love to double that number to provide the care and support our patients and families in Rock County deserve," he said.

The vigil volunteer program is one of Agrace's most widely used services, Boryczka said.

"There's a huge, huge need. We get requests several times a week throughout the (Rock County) service area; sometimes multiple times on a given night. On a recent Friday, three different patients requested that same service," he said.

The vigil volunteers provide comfort and reassurance for patients and their loved ones, Boryczka said.

"Time and time again, we hear from the family what a great gift it was to them," he said.

Scott Geister-Jones, Stoughton, agreed.

When his father, 92, was dying, the vigil volunteer gave him the opportunity to take a break, go home and rest.

"My mom has passed, I have no cousins, and my sister lives in Europe. So for me, it was comforting to be able to go home and get a little rest knowing Pop wasn't alone. It was sweet and an act of love. I appreciated it very much," he said.

Vigil volunteers are required to provide a minimum of 50 hours of service with patients, complete a special application and attend training, Boryczka said.

A vigil volunteer has to be peaceful, calm and quiet and comfortable holding someone's hand for hours without any return interaction, he said.

Krause said vigil volunteers are caring and compassionate, and their goal is to make the journey of the dying less lonely.

"I wouldn't want to be alone nor would I want my family to be alone," she said.

"If I can make anyone less lonely, then I feel like I've done what I've set out to do."

HeartStrings Strikes a Chord

As published in Madison Magazine, written by Greg Hettmansberger.










"All people will experience the profound impact of live classical music, regardless of their level of functioning."

What a wonderful vision statement for a group of musicians. And that vision has been a reality for years now in Madison. Arguably the best-kept arts secret in our region, the program known as HeartStrings has quickly managed to impact at least seven nations on three continents—and thousands of people who likely couldn't set foot in a traditional concert hall if they wanted to.

HeartStrings is a community engagement program that brings live, interactive music performances—by some of the Madison Symphony Orchestra's top musicians—to health care and residential facilities to reach listeners of all ages, most of whom are challenged with physical and emotional disabilities of varying degrees. More than just a series of concerts, these visits have sparked extraordinary cognitive, emotional and physical changes in the audiences they've reached, and the impact on the musicians has been equally powerful.

So how did it all begin? First, members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and educational staff took their art to new audiences. Then they wrote the book on it, or at least they published a hundred-page toolkit.

MSO director of education and community engagement Michelle Kaebisch and then-education assistant Shannon Lobdell coauthored "HeartStrings: A Guide to Music Therapy–Informed Community Engagement for Symphony Orchestras." The manual covers every aspect of setting up a program that, in the case of the MSO, encompasses ten events per month, at ten different facilities, from September through May.

It is "music therapy-informed" because no licensed music therapist is present at the events—or needs to be. One of the key developers of HeartStrings was Laurie Farnan, a now-retired music therapist who coordinated the music therapy program at the Central Wisconsin Center in Madison from 1975 to 2011. CWC, a state residential and treatment center for people with developmental disabilities, continues to be one of the ongoing venues for HeartStrings, which has touched more than thirty other countywide facilities, running the gamut from children's hospitals to retirement facilities to community centers, over the years.

Following publication in January 2011, the HeartStrings toolkit quickly caught on—the first copies were purchased by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall, and today dozens of musical organizations, healthcare facilities and colleges and universities have duplicated or emulated the program in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Greece, Australia and New Zealand.

Here in Dane County, the HeartStrings mission is carried out by the Rhapsodie Quartet, made up of four strings players who occupy prominent seats in the MSO. Co-concertmaster Suzanne Beia is the lively leader of the group, joined by violinist Laura Burns, principal violist Chris Dozoryst and princial cellist Karl Lavine. Beia does most of the arrangements of the music herself, presenting a different program each month of about fifty-five minutes or so, based on a theme or idea.

A program last year at the nonprofit Mobility Training and Independent Living Program was called Americana. Selections ranged from numbers from West Side Story to songs by Gershwin and Porter. An audience of about twenty MTILP patients attended; virtually all of them used wheelchairs. When they couldn't easily participate using the sticks, tambourines, egg shakers and other various handheld percussion instruments Beia periodically distributed, their attendants would join in, often touching their patient's arm or hand.

It can be difficult to detect quick cause-and-effect results in such a setting, yet one could feel the smiles in the room. "At a place like MTILP," Beia says, "it's not always easy to see the outward signs of the audience members' response to our music, but with a few years' experience, one can learn to observe the more subtle signs—eye contact where previously there was none, a clenched fist relaxes slightly, respiration grows deeper, slower ... These small signs have come to mean as much to me as any backstage compliments at a 'normal' concert."

A program a few months later at the Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care had a different feel. Invitation to the Dance was enlivened not only by Beia's irrepressible energy, but also by an accompanying slideshow showing pictures of tangos, waltzes and gigues. About a half-dozen patients attended, along with family members and a couple of staff personnel. For an outside observer, the growing sense of life-affirming energy transcended any usual concert hall event. But how do the players process the fact that one or more of their listeners on this day will probably not be there when the Rhapsodie Quartet returns the next month?

A couple of days after the Agrace performance, Beia provided an answer that also gave great insight into the many ways HeartStrings is able to touch lives in so many different circumstances.

"When I first heard about this new program the symphony was starting to develop, I was the first to be skeptical," she says. "What good could my skills contribute, I wondered, to these people whose needs seemed so much more basic than music? But, as I began to observe the reactions and responses of the audiences we played for, my skepticism slowly began to change into conviction, then passion for the HeartStrings mission ... My work with HeartStrings reminds me, on a daily basis, of the difference music can make in people's lives. The opportunity to provide a woman with advanced dementia the joy of recognizing a beloved and familiar melody from her childhood in Vienna; the attempt to reach inside the mind of an autistic boy, forging a connection through music between the outside world and the beautiful spirit locked within. I am aware when I play at Agrace—when I play anywhere, actually—that that performance might be the last music that someone will hear on this earth, and keeping this awareness in the back of my mind helps to keep me in the moment, and reminds me to fill each performance with as much emotion and love as I possibly can."

Overture Center and the UW–Madison campus might be the first places that come to mind when one thinks of the power of great music in Madison, but be reminded that the eternal spark-of-life quality in music is happening in and around our city—in places where "bravo" and "thank you" seem more inadequate than ever when the playing stops.


BRAVA Names Two Agrace Women 2 Watch

Malika and Alia W2W imageAs printed in the January 2015 issue of Brava Magazine, written by Marni McEntee.

Since their arrival on-staff last year at Agrace HospiceCare, Malika Evanco, director of human resources, and Alia Dayne, the agency's first diversity coordinator, have often worked hand-in-glove to ensure that the nonprofit agency's employees, volunteers - and all patients and their families - reflect the community as a whole.

Already at Agrace's facility in Madison, Evanco has helped make a "visual improvement" in staff diversity, Dayne says. Yet nearly all Agrace's palliative, hospice and respite care-provided by 530-plus employees and more than 1,200 volunteers - takes place outside the brick-and-mortar sites in Madison, Janesville and Baraboo. Most care happens in nursing or assisted living homes and private residences.

Evanco says Agrace must equally hire and care for people from communities of color. "While we are growing, if we really want to be reflective of the community that we serve, this has to be important to our organization. It has to be important to who we are and what we do," Evanco says. And it is, thanks to a revised long-term strategic plan.

In addition, starting this year Dayne will oversee a new minority certified nursing assistant (CNA) scholars program to provide scholarships and employment to students of color. Most of Agrace's leadership team has a nursing background, so these scholarships will allow new employees to move up through the ranks.

Through community outreach Dayne also is addressing minority communities (which account for roughly 15 percent of the area's population) to ensure these traditionally underserved populations understand how hospice care can serve them, its mission - or even simply, its existence. Through visits to schools, churches and community centers, she explains that care can be covered by Medicare, Medicade, private insurance and even community-funded grants. She's also discussing death and dying with communitties in which the subject is taboo.

Death is an issue that everyone deals with eventually. That transcends diversity. But, that message hadn't been conveyed as well to minority communities before because it wasn't coming from someone within their community.

"When people walk through the door, they want to see people who look like them," Evanco says.

In the end, the two say, the entire population benefits. Better health care and better end-of-life care mean fewer visits to the emergency room, lower health care costs and a better quality of life for all.

Agrace Volunteers Like Lys Wilson 'make a big difference'

As printed in The Janesville Gazette, December 22, 2014, written by Shelly Birkelo

Lys Wilson Rock County VolunteerJANESVILLE—Lys Wilson took a seat in Glen Vigdahl's walker/scooter. Using the tips of her shoes, she rolled it as close as she could to his bedside so she could hear him speak.
“So tell me, what have you been doing?” she asked the 82-year-old Agrace HospiceCare patient, who lives at Rock Haven nursing home.
“My brother brought me that Christmas tree, a maintenance man put it up and two or three others decorated it,” he said, pointing to the table stand.
“You don't have any presents under it,” Wilson said.
“There's cookies,” Vigdahl teased before the two burst into laughter.
An Agrace HospiceCare home care volunteer, Wilson visits Vigdahl weekly when the two quietly chat, play games, watch TV, go to the activity room or outside when weather permits. “If he's not feeling good, I'll just sit at his bedside and we talk,” Wilson said. She has been doing so for about a year and never misses unless she is ill or on vacation.
Vigdahl looks forward to Wilson's visits and thinks of her as family. “She's somebody interesting to visit with. It's just nice to talk about the news in the world and visit about old times,” he said.
Wilson, 74, Milton, is among 130 active Agrace volunteers serving Rock County, said Andrew Boryczka, manager of volunteer services for Agrace. Yet, “Agrace can always use more community members who want to help their neighbors in Rock County by being a volunteer,” he said.
Aside from visiting with patients in their homes, volunteers can also serve in Agrace's new inpatient unit in Janesville, Boryczka said.
“Volunteers greet visitors at our front desk, and visit with patients who are staying in the facility,” he said.
Agrace also opened a thrift store this spring in Janesville where volunteers are needed to help run registers and sort donations, Boryczka said.
“There have never been more opportunities to volunteer in Rock County for Agrace,” he said, even though volunteers like Wilson donated more than 71,000 volunteer hours in 2013 to Agrace.
“Without volunteer support, we simply could not provide such a high level of care to patients and families. Many patients would be less able to stay in their homes or would have to rely on paid help or friends and family with things like housekeeping and errand running,” Boryczka said.
“Volunteers, who make a big difference, provide socialization that would also not necessarily be available to patients,” he said.
In addition to visiting Vigdahl, Wilson volunteers in many ways for Agrace. She delivers meals to patients as part of the Celebration of Life program that partners with local restaurants to provide special meals to patients. She also goes out at night and sits bedside with imminently dying patients as part of our vigil program, Boryczka said.
“Lys is a very active volunteer,” he said.
Courtney Endicott, volunteer coordinator for Agrace in Rock County, dubbed her a “superstar.”
“She's a volunteer willing to try anything,” she said.
Through regular visits, Wilson has learned she has much in common with Vigdahl. “We both attended one-room schools and have farm backgrounds,” she said.
She always brings something related to the holidays to brighten up his room.
An American flag decal still clings to the window behind the drapery in Vigdahl's room. Wilson put it there in July.
She even mails postcards to him from travel destinations and knows he enjoys them because the one from Boston still hangs in his room.
Wilson encourages others to volunteer for Agrace.
But, she said, before doing so “You have to feel it in your heart and make the commitment to the program."

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