One of life's greatest challenges is experiencing the loss of a loved one. No matter their age or their illness, devastation instantly affects the entire family. For years, Hospice of the Calumet Area has remained a beacon of light for many families during their most darkest hours.

A special group of more than 60 volunteers known as the Hospice Artisans has held the torch of compassion and leadership by hosting numerous fundraisers and creating pieces like stationery, clothing, textiles, dolls and more to help the cause. The group works to ensure the resources necessary for the organization. The artisans have even been recognized locally and nationally for their innovative strategy to create materials that generate direct revenue.

"These women have some incredible qualities and serve as an inspiration to our entire hospice community," says Jenifer Vargo-Okamura, Hospice of the Calumet Area director of development. "They spend countless hours sharing their talents and amazing compassion and they get things done."

The Hospice Artisans, formed in 2006, have only one mission—to help the organization provide the highest level of care to their patients. "We celebrate life," says Marilyn Kmak, Hospice Artisan recognized as a volunteer of the year in 2014. "It's so very precious, and to help families focus on spending those beautiful moments with their loved ones is so very important. It's part of the healing process, as difficult as it may seem at the time.

"My passion for Hospice [of the Calumet Area] started with my mother, who was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She didn't want treatment and I remember her saying, 'Everybody has to die from something.'" Kmak, a former registered nurse, spent the rest of her mother's days by her side with the help of Hospice's "kind, caring and warm" support, allowing the family to focus on their last days with their mom. "Hospice was so compassionate and caring I knew I wanted to be part of it," Kmak says. "I'm honored to be part of such a wonderful group. I have a great respect for the staff and volunteers that continue to make things happen selflessly."

Hospice Artisan chair Lydia Dershewitz exudes compassion with a sweet, Mother Teresa-esque style of humility and leadership. Dershewitz points to the Hospice staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to serve. "Hospice is such an inspiring organization with beautiful people that just want to give," Dershewitz says. "Every one of us plays an important part by doing what we can by using our talents to help the cause."

Hospice of the Calumet Area, a nonprofit agency headquartered in Munster, is dedicated to improving the quality of care for individuals and families facing life-limiting illnesses. Hospice also provides support to families and loved ones affected by the death of a patient. Their Healing Hearts grief support programs are offered to teens and children as well. "Hospice of the Calumet Area believes that caregivers are a key element in total patient care and should know that they do not walk alone," says Adrianne May, Hospice executive director.

One of the artisans' newest initiatives is their Holiday Gift Boutique that attracts more than 400 supporters and generates a significant amount of revenue. Besides their impressive sales numbers, generous supporters, which include business partners as well as individuals, bring a total revenue from the artisans to approximately $400,000 (as of December 2015).

Some of Hospice's fundraisers have included fashion shows, Hospice Hustle, Collective Perspectives art show, Friends of Hospice, Mum's the Word, a comedy show featuring Jim Gaffigan and their fourth annual Holiday Gift Boutique on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Cloister in the Woods in Munster.

For more information about services, visit hospicecalumet.org.

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