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Last Chance for White Pants raises nearly $60,000 for VNA Hospice Center

Over 200 attendees crowded the gorgeous Stardust Ballroom at the Blue Chip Casino, Hotel, and Spa Saturday evening to share a meal and help raise awareness of the Visiting Nurses Association of Northwest Indiana, as well as to raise money needed to update the Arthur B. and Ethel V. Horton VNA Hospice Center in Valparaiso.

“The center opened in 2002,” said Cindy Kaariainen-Tougaw, Vice Chair of the VNA Board of Directors and Fundraising Chair for the event, “Things are becoming a little outdated - when the center was built, it was not common to have oxygen supplied through the wall. It was just wheeled around on carts, so we’d like to update that. New beds of course are a priority, as well as some new wiring, some paint and carpeting. We’d like to make the lights dimmable to make it more comfortable for patients and their families.”

Last year, VNA provided care and assistance to over 760 patients across five counties: Lake, Porter, La Porte Jasper and Starke.

“Our main program is our hospice program,” said Maria Galka, Director of Development at VNA. “We provide hospice care in people’s homes, in extended care facilities and in our inpatient facility. We also provide Meals on Wheels, delivering all the meals in Porter County. We have a Companion Homemaker program as well as a Lifeline program. We even have a children’s bereavement program called The VNA Phoenix Center, for children who are grieving the loss of someone they love.”

Galka says that early hospice care can make a world of difference for patients and their families.

“A lot of times, we see patients in their final days, when we could actually begin treating them 6 months, even a year before they pass away,” explained Galka, “During that time, we could provide pain control to help them manage pain. We could provide them with social services to be able to work through family issues, make final arrangements or help with long term care. We can help support their families. That’s why events like this are so important. Though the main goal here is to raise funds for the renovation, it also helps to make people more aware of hospice. It creates a little buzz, and people remember - ‘Oh yeah- hospice!’ Maybe they know of a friend or neighbor or relative, someone who might benefit from hospice care.”

“We see so many families come into hospice, struggling through this very difficult time,” Galka said, “The patient has anxiety. The family dynamic is often strained. Hospice is there not just to relieve the pain, but to help resolve the family issues, the anticipatory grief. We can help with the physical, as well as the emotional strain. People shouldn’t have to face that kind of struggle alone, and VNA Hospice is here to help.” 

Ticket holders for the event were treated to an open bar, musical entertainment and a dinner of chicken and filet mignon. There were also both an open and silent auction, and a "Fund the Cause" moment with the goal to raise $10,000 towards replacing 10 hospital beds at the VNA Hospice Center, a target which was easily exceeded as bidding quickly shot past the target amount. Sponsors for the event included Urschel Laboratories, Thrivent Financial, MacLennan and Bain Insurance, Doug and Jackie Watkins, First Merchants Bank, Indiana University Northwest, Puntillo and Crane Orthodontics, LaPorte Hospital, Porter Regional Hospital and many others.

One particularly moving highlight of the evening was the genuine, heartfelt address given by Susan Brychell, who spoke about the tremendous benefit she and her family felt on behalf of the VNA during the loss of her mother.

Ann O’Heir, President and CEO of VNA was grateful for the success of the first-time event.

“The community response and support was overwhelming,” said O’Heir. “When we reached out to the community, people really stepped up as sponsors and just gave and gave for the auctions. They really made this happen.”

“We’re especially pleased that Laura Harting, the founding Executive Director of the VNA could be here with us tonight,” O’Heir said.

Trish Gagliardi, Care Management Director for Franciscan Alliance attended the event and hopes to create hospice awareness.

“The philosophy of hospice of ‘Total Patient - Total Family’ is important to me,” said Gagliardi, “It’s not necessarily about the end of life, but about how you want to live your life. It’s about dignity. It’s a care continuum that benefits our patients both during their life, and after their death, it benefits the families.”

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