It all started in 1980 with a meeting notice in the newspaper.
Patricia Evans of Lockport, who had just witnessed a neighbor suffering terribly as he died of cancer, saw an article asking anyone interested in discussing the feasibility of developing a hospice program in Niagara County to attend a meeting in North Tonawanda.
Evans, along with about 30 other people, showed up. Other meetings followed in Niagara Falls and Lockport, and the seeds for Niagara Hospice were planted.
“Back then, not a lot of people knew about hospice, so they were just trying to decide on regulations,” Evans said.
In fact, it took eight years before Niagara Hospice served its first patient. Today, more than 20,000 patients and their families have utilized the myriad of services Niagara Hospice offers.
In 1988, the organization was housed in a small office in Cambria. Today, Niagara Hospice occupies a huge, sprawling complex on Sunset Drive in the Town of Lockport, which includes Hospice House, a residential facility; a large administrative building, extensive gardens and a pavilion that is currently under construction.
The organization also provides services to Niagara County residents who live at home, with a caregiver, at contracted nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as in hospitals.
“The growth of our organization over the past 25 years has been nothing short of incredible. We have not only had the opportunity to provide care for thousands of patients in their own homes and at area nursing facilities, but we have been able to grow an extraordinary staff and volunteer corps, build Niagara Hospice House that has been used as a model for other hospices, and develop several collaborations with long-term care facilities that share our dedication and commitment to the specialty of end-of-life care,” said Patricia Degan, director of marketing and public relations.
In recognition of its silver anniversary, Niagara Hospice will host a 25th Anniversary Gala Under the Stars at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 beneath the newly constructed Dominic Lariccia Family Pavilion on the Sunset Drive Campus. The gala will feature antique car rides, a star-gazing location with telescopes, live and silent auction items, music by The Jim Beishline Quartet, local wines from the Niagara Wine Trail and local and regional craft beers provided by WNY Beer Club, catering by the Tuscarora Inn, live and silent auctions, a chance to win $10,000 and more.
In addition to the Gala, a pictorial scrapbook illustrating Niagara Hospice’s history going back to 1980 is being published, and will be available at the Gala.
“25 Years of Shared Journeys” starts when offering local hospice care was just an idea.
Evans, who has been a board member since the beginning, along with volunteers Janice Litz, Mary Ligammari and April Biamonte, pored over boxes and files from the last 33 years to assemble and design the limited edition book, that will be available for a $20 donation at the Gala, and is already available online at NiagaraHospice.org.
Many Niagara Hospice volunteers, staff and hospice family members and founders are remembered throughout the professionally printed book. Funds raised from both the book and the Gala will benefit Niagara Hospice patients and families.
Although it would seem to be a depressing mission, the workers at hospice believe that they are offering hope, both for the patients and families they serve.
“There is an emphasis on the quality of life. We provide hope, but it’s a reframing of hope — to die peacefully and not in pain.
The family is a big part of it. We educate them and help them cope. Many times, when you can alleviate the patient’s pain, you alleviate the family’s stress,” Evans said.
In fact, families are offered hospice bereavement services for 13 months after a death.
“I was proud to be part of the small group that Rev. Bob Cook organized back in 1980. And I’m so proud of how it has evolved and grown,” Evans said.
MORE INFORMATION For more information on the Aug. 16 Gala or to purchase tickets, visit the Events page at NiagaraHospice.org. To support the event with a donation of your time driving your antique car, providing a telescope or auction items, call the Niagara Hospice Alliance at 280-0780.