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Daily Journal
     March 31, 2020      #35-91 KDJ

A proper place for the grief stricken to

By Mike Frey

A few years ago, members of the Hospice of Kankakee Valley leadership team began to entertain visions of establishing a Community Grief Center.

But those vague images of the mind could not match the reality that has emerged as the hospice is set to fully open its grief center at the corner of Illinois Route 102 and Career Center Road in Bourbonnais.

The former home of the Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd, the hospice purchased the 8,000-square-foot facility and has spent the last several months converting it into a a first of its kind resource for the region. Katie Canada, hospice director of community relations and development, has marveled at the progress she has witnessed.

“Seeing the building from where it was when we began until now is amazing,’’ she said. “This is far exceeding our expectations.’’

For the determination shown in making a dream come true while providing a vital service to the area, Hospice of Kankakee Valley has been named as the Innovation in Social Services winner as part of the annual Progress Awards bestowed by the Daily Journal.

The hospice is eager to show the community what has been accomplished, and had a series of grand opening events scheduled for late March. Alas, the restrictions brought forth by the coronavirus crisis has caused a delay, and the organization is hopeful to reschedule the events sooner rather than later.

When the grief center finally fully opens to the public, it will unveil a myriad of services for those who are coping with the loss of a loved one.

“We will utilize every square foot,’’ Hospice Executive Director Connie Lemon said. “I don’t think years ago we could imagine the grief center could be what it is to be.’’

Donna Balasz, who heads up the organization’s grief support efforts, has a general idea of the primary purpose the center will serve.

“People process grief in different ways, and this place allows people to process grief in different ways,’’ she said.

Among the different features in the expansive facility are a cafe where visitors can hold discussions over a cup of coffee, an art room, a teen room where grief-stricken young people can gather, a movement room which will allow yoga and a music room, among others.

Another big advantage is the facility’s ability to host large events. The previously existing office on Main Street NW in Bourbonnais wasn’t large enough to host such gatherings, and the hospice often had to find an outside place to play host. Now, the Main Street office will be used primarily for administrative needs, and the grief center will host grief counseling services, volunteer services and related events, such as the annual “Coping with Grief During the Holidays’’ gathering that traditionally draws a large crowd.

Speaking of volunteers, they remain the lifeblood of the organization, and are needed even more now that the grief center is operational. Even though coronavirus limitations have slowed foot traffic there to a crawl, telephone services already are offered through the center.

“[Volunteers] play such a huge role in our success in every aspect,’’ Canada said. “They will play a larger role at the grief center by greeting visitors and helping with events. We always could use more.’’

But the constant need does not diminish the deep appreciation for the help already given. It comes in many forms, including funding donations which help cover operational costs.

This is something Lemon deeply cherishes, as she realizes it’s not always the case in other communities.

“I was involved with hospice in the Chicago area before coming here, and you didn’t see nearly the same level of support,’’ Lemon said. “People here are very supportive.’’

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