story and photos by April Robertson
ROGERS – The 12th Annual Voyage Gala, a benefit for the Northwest Arkansas Circle of Life Hospice took place Saturday evening (Nov. 17) in the John Q. Hammons Center.
The event honored volunteers, strove to increase awareness of a community program that provide free meals, care and help in times of grief, while also raising funds to make the services possible.
“This is my favorite night of the year,” said Mary McKinney, chief executive officer of the Circle of Life Hospice. “The community of Northwest Arkansas gets it, what Hospice is about. We’re blessed with beautiful facilities, but the number one blessing is our awesome staff. They display dignity, respect and passion.”
Maxie Carpenter, chair of the Circle of Life Board of Directors, echoed those sentiments.
“This year’s been great. It’s awesome,” he said. “In the past year 5,200 individuals were served by Hospice … and the growth continues, as you’d imagine.”
The organization initially began raising funds to provide a facility that could provide in-patient care, but quickly discovered that it was in high demand.
“Now that we have that, we’re still not meeting all of Northwest Arkansas’ needs,” said Voyage Gala emcee Jim Blount. “In 2011 we broke ground on a 24-bed facility in Bentonville. Tonight, celebrate another success.”
Additions to the facilities are scheduled to take place in March 2013.
The Voyage Gala began with a stroll through a photo booth, up the red carpet and past velvet ropes to a formal dinner. Guests were treated to a meal of slow roasted herb pork loin and seared garlic chicken with a wild mushroom demi, a fall vegetable medley, warm dinner rolls and a spring mix salad. Sweet chocolate and vanilla cupcakes were provided by Rick’s Bakery for dessert.
Guests further benefited the community programs by bidding on eclectic items in a silent auction. There was something for every taste. Christmas platters, pamper packages worth hundreds of dollars, large photo canvases, a Fox Fur hip-length coat, gift certificates to local restaurants and tickets to live music events, such as the Grand Country Music Hall. Baskets were assembled in themes of decorator’s interest, children’s education and play interests, new parenthood and were interspersed with other items, like the Lawn Zombie.
A raffle for a $1,000 Walmart gift card took place and was awarded to a man who volunteers weekly, driving in from Oklahoma.
The high rate of involvement at the Circle of Life Hospice is a point of pride for the organization.
“We have an army of volunteers,” said Cat Swenson, volunteer coordinator at Circle of Life Hospice. “Our volunteers are attorneys, therapists, farmers, housewives. … We have musicians come to the facilities and perform.”
Circle of Life Hospice has a total of 284 volunteers, who range in age from 15 to 95. These dedicated people donate their services, sometimes after driving in from out of state.
“These folks work directly with families,” Swenson said. A total of “70 percent of families (under Hospice care) had volunteers visit them this year.”
The selfless act of volunteering can’t help but pay off for everybody, though. Time after time, Swenson has had volunteers return and tell her they always get back so much more than they give.
“Many people think that Hospice is only for cancer patients or for only one type of disease or one age group and that’s just not true,” said volunteer Lisa Kelley in an informational video about Circle of Life Hospice played at the Voyage Gala. “We provide care for the whole patient and for their families … provide comfort and rest.”
“Hospice is reassuring the family that it’s going to be OK,” said Michael, a registered nurse at Circle of Life, who was featured in the video. “… it’s providing medication. It’s holding hands.”
As a nurse, he’s had the experience of working in a hospital previously, which gave him perspective of the comfort of Hospice. Now, “I can see exactly how different that care is.”
One thing each volunteer stressed is that hospice is not the end of the adventure for people who come to live on the facilities or who require in-home care.
“The people who come here have lots of life to live in that amount of time,” said Connie, a social worker who spoke in the video. “We work to make that experience so much richer at the end of life.”
Audin, a chaplain of the organization, explained that hospice is about hope. Hope for the patients, hope for the family members and hope for the volunteers.
“It’s a privilege to come into their homes,” he said.
Each year, the organization honors one volunteer with the Bernice Young Jones Award. This person “gives of themselves, who volunteer and inspire others through their service at Circle of Life.” Lisa Kelley, an attorney in Northwest Arkansas, was this year’s honoree. Kelley has contributed hundreds of hours establishing wills for patients since 2010. She was described as a true advocate.
“Circle means a great deal to me,” Kelley said. “I got involved because of Nan Smith and just wanted to do something for the community.”
Kelley was overwhelmed and delightfully surprised by the honor.
After making pledges, drawing raffle tickets and securing auction items, guests joined an afterparty at V2 Club, which was sponsored by Mike’s Hard Lemonade.