Kasey Kronk is the Director of Operations at Caring Hearts and Hands who wears many other hats around the house. As the first paid staff member to join the team, she does whatever it takes to keep the house running smoothly.
“There’s never the same day,” Kasey said. “I have a lot of jobs. It’s just everything that it takes to run the house is what I do, to be honest. So you just kind of have to take it as it comes, you know?”
Kasey handles referrals that come in, working with hospice agencies and families as the house accepts guests. She works with all the volunteers as well as handles interviewing and hiring paid staff members. She applies for grants, processes donations and helps with events.
But really what Kasey does goes far beyond any job description. The house is very new, and each day they learn new things that need to be done to keep everything smooth and comfortable for their guests. That’s where Kasey comes in.
“You don’t realize that it’s going to be needed until it comes up. ,” she said. “It’s just like when you’re creating a business. So as things come, you’re figuring out ways that would make something easier.”
Kasey and the rest of the team is currently developing processes, documents and files to make tasks easier. Others are involved, too, including volunteers like Linda Antal.
“Day to day, we’re realizing like, oh, we should do this now. Or we should do that, or, you know what, we should change this,” she explained. “So we’re trying to develop our processes, still.”
In the midst of all the daily operations and processes, Caring Hearts and Hands is always focused on caring for the guests and families that come through their doors.
“We’re helping families, and everything’s going wonderful with that,” Kasey said. “Our families that we’ve helped have been just so happy. And just so they just can’t believe what we’re doing. And they can’t believe that we’re doing it at no cost. And they just are thrilled and overwhelmingly thankful.”
And every guest brings special moments and memories to the staff and volunteers. For Kasey, she has especially found joy in cooking for guests, as she cooked professionally for 20 years. As Operations Director, she’s sautéed shrimp for breakfast, made ribs, and more.
“Oh, it’s definitely the families we help,” Kasey answered when asked what brings her the most joy in her job. “You know, it’s the families we help. And it’s the guests that we help, even though they pass in the end. When they get there, they’re so happy and relieved to be there to spend their final days. It’s hard to explain how much joy that brings you. I get emotional even talking about it.”
So, instead of asking, “What does a Director of Operations do?” Maybe we should ask: what doesn’t she do?
These beautiful images show the sweetness of the 2022 Lights for Love Memorial Event. This year, Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia is honored to host the luminary event again on Saturday, Oct. 28 in Cosmo-Bethel Park at 6 p.m. Purchase a luminary in memory of someone you love now or on the day of the event. Musical Entertainment includes Harry Beckett, Ranan Reis Leme, Olivia Swanson & Bill Kollars, Giving Song Singers, and The Threshold Choir.
Steve Isaacs lost his wife when she was 40, and they had no viable options outside of the hospital for her final days. But now, with the staff and volunteers at Caring Hearts and Hands, Isaacs does his part to give back to help others in the same situation, carrying on her legacy.
Can you tell us a bit about your life? Work? Family?
I am from South Dakota, originally. At least that is where I lived the longest (my father was in the Air Force). I graduated from SEMO and then from Mizzou Law School. I practiced law for about seven-and-a-half years before leaving to work with my best friend’s advertising company, where I’ve been working for the past 17 or so years. I have a 15-year-old son named Vince.
How did you learn about Caring Hearts and Hands?
I was previously married, and my wife Stephanie sadly passed away from breast cancer at the age of 40. We would have loved to have a place for her to spend her final days rather than a hospital, but there were no viable options.
After her passing, I met and began dating Theresa Rardin, who coincidentally was involved with CHHC. That is what introduced me to the organization. I wanted to be able to honor Stephanie, but also help others who are in her unfortunate situation. I feel like I am carrying on her legacy when I am able to help at CHHC.
What draws you to the organization’s mission?
Mainly the fact that I have been in the exact same situation as the families they serve today. I know how unbelievably difficult it is. To have an organization that helps take care of one of the most anxiety-producing parts of that journey—the end-of-life stage—is very important.
What is the most rewarding part about CHHC?
Knowing that they are taking some of the burden off of the families, while also often times fulfilling the patient’s desire not to die in a hospital.
Join us for our third Lights for Love Memorial Event on Oct. 28, 2023 at Cosmo-Bethel Park. This beautiful evening is an opportunity to honor and remember someone you love while giving back to those in hospice care in our community.
Luminaries will be available for purchase now and at check-in the day of the event. All proceeds will be used to support our home in Columbia for those who are under hospice care, in the last 30 days of life, and in need of caregiver support.
Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia (CHHC) is only possible through the help of dedicated volunteers. It takes a special, passionate team to keep everything running and provide the best care for their guests. One such volunteer, Linda Antal, brings helpful experience from her work at Boone Hospital and empathy learned from her parents to both write policies and serve as a Caretaker Volunteer.
How did you get involved with Caring Hearts and Hands?
I got involved with CHHC through my association with Jackie Reed and Dorreen Rardin. I worked with both of them at Boone Hospital, and Dorreen recruited me to help.
What work do you do with them?
My first project was volunteering at Lights for Love several years ago. After becoming a member of the Operations Committee, I volunteered to write the policies and procedures for CHHC. In a weird way, I like writing policies and developing forms that support the processes that need to be followed. I used samples from other hospice houses as a starting point, made them our own and then presented them to the Board for approval. Since orientation involves education about the policies and forms to be used at CHHC, I also wrote the orientation manuals used for the caregiver and house volunteer classes. I continue to tweak the policies and forms to make them work better for us, but now I am also a caretaker volunteer.
What draws you to the organization’s mission?
I have had several family members who were on hospice before they passed away—most specially, my husband and mother. I experienced first-hand the comfort and caring hospice can provide. After retiring, I wanted to give back and thought I’d like to be involved volunteering for one of the local hospice agencies. CHHC came along instead!
What experience do you have outside of CHHC and how does that help your work there?
I am a registered nurse and retired from Boone Hospital after working there for 39 years. I spent the last 25 years of my career working in leadership positions where one of my responsibilities was maintaining the policies and procedures for nursing. This prepared me well for my work at CHHC!
What do you do for fun/to destress?
Doing something creative is my best way to destress. I like all forms of needle arts (knitting, crocheting, embroidery, etc.), making junk journals and working in our flower beds. I also became a Master Naturalist last year and am enjoying volunteering in parks and outdoor spaces to spread native plants and knowledge about our ecosystem and the importance of preserving it!
Can you tell us more about your family / where you’re from?
I grew up in Hermann, MO with seven brothers. My mom and dad handed down a strong work ethic and taught all of us kindness, the importance of taking care of our earth, and empathy and compassion for others. I now live in Ashland with my daughter, her husband and two grandchildren – Emma (14) and Lucy (10). I am so lucky to be able to see my grandchildren every day and be part of their lives.
What is the most rewarding thing about CHHC?
I find the care of our guests the most rewarding aspect of my involvement with CHHC. I was not at the bedside for the last several years of my nursing career and feel so fortunate to be able to provide hands-on care again. Dying is a sacred time in the lives of our guests, and I am privileged to be a part of it.
Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia was privileged to be part of the life of one of its first guests, David Potts. Volunteers were able to provide the care he and his family needed in his final days. David stayed at the home for 11 days and passed away on his 12th. His wife, Janet, and his two sons, Mike and Greg, were all able to be with him in that time.
“We just felt like he got wonderful care,” Janet shared, “We were just so thrilled to be able to get the services offered.”
After David fell and went to the hospital, the social worker started talking about nursing homes, but he was adamant that he did not want to go to one. So the social worker told the family about Caring Hearts and Hands.
“We’d never heard of it. And my husband said, ‘That’s where I’d like to go,'” Janet explained. “The timing was just perfect. It was just absolutely the most wonderful thing that could have happened.”
Mike and Greg both came in from out of state and were able to stay with their parents.
The Help of Volunteer Caregivers
The family felt that the volunteers at the home went above and beyond. When David wanted a certain meal, whether that be shrimp, ribs or a McDonald’s sausage biscuit, they would go right out and get it. David developed a good relationship with one of his evening caretakers and had several deep conversations. Another caretaker brought Janet flowers, candies and a card for Mother’s Day, and helped David sign the card and make her a video.
“She really didn’t have to do that, but it was nice of her,” Janet said. “She gave the card to him and he signed it. And then he did a video of saying that I know you’re not my mother, but Happy Mother’s Day and that you’ve done a good job being a mother to our two sons. It’s very touching.”
Paying It Forward
After their experience in our home, Janet, Mike and Greg all made donations to Caring Hearts and Hands so that the home could serve our next guest with the same level of attention and care.
Our home seeks to do more than just provide a comfortable place and provide for guests and their families physically, because emotional and spiritual needs must be met with the same compassion and love. We are happy that we could offer a safe, warm and loving environment to David, Janet, Mike and Greg.
“I got a lot of hugs,” Janet said. “Those volunteers give good hugs.”
Thanks to the efforts of #ForColumbia, and incredible volunteers across the community, the exterior of Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia saw an incredible transformation.
A group of nearly 20 volunteers from community organizations like The Crossing and Our Lady of Lourdes came together to trim back bushes and trees, weed overgrown garden beds, power-wash a privacy fence, construct a new section of privacy fence, replace screens on the screened-in porch, and create a walkway to a lovely playhouse.
“This has been incredible,” says Kasey Kronk, operations director of Caring Hearts and Hands. “The transformation in just a few hours is a testament to our entire model. We want to be a community home: a home for the community, supported by the community. And this shows that it’s possible!”
ForColumbia, founded in 2015, brings Christians together to serve the community together. This nondenominational effort brought people together, many who had never heard or or seen Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia. Volunteers spent three or six hours, enjoyed lunch, took tours of the home, and got some serious work done!
To learn more about a social model home, and end-of-life care, check out the resources page.
Caring Hearts and Hands operates fully through the help of volunteers like Jan Asbury, who serves on the Operations Committee and works passionately to bring as much peace as she can to end-of-life guests.
How did you first hear about Caring Hearts and Hands?
I heard about CHHC from Dorreen Rardin, who told me about the plans for the house and asked if I was interested in volunteering.
How long have you been involved with CHHC?
I’ve been on CHHC’s Operations Committee for about a year.
What draws you to the organization’s mission?
I have said for years I felt this area needed a hospice house. After learning about CHHC, I loved the idea of opening a social model end-of-life home instead. A home where one can spend their last days in a loving, respectful, caring environment that can meet their physical, spiritual and emotional needs with their loved ones at their side. The fact that this care will be free of charge is just icing on the cake!
When you talk to others about CHHC, what resonates with them?
When I speak with others about CHHC, I get very positive responses. I get the feeling that they see the need for such a home in Columbia and are pleased that one will be opening soon.
Where are you from?
I was born in Ohio and lived in Indiana and Alabama before moving to Hallsville when I was eight. I currently live in Fayette.
Tell us about your family and/or those closest in your life.
I have been married to my husband, Doug, for 35 years. I have two children and their spouses and two grandchildren, who I absolutely adore and love.
What do you hope to accomplish as a volunteer?
My goal is to provide a peaceful caring environment for the guests and their families. I hope to be a blessing to those I encounter and make a positive difference during a difficult time. I look forward to the blessings I will take away, too.
In February of 2018, Sandy Hughes of Joplin, Missouri lost her husband to cancer, sending her on a path to create a space there for a “peaceful transition from life to death.” She co-founded Solace House, a non-profit social-model home for end-of-life care. After five years of struggles and successes, Sandy is now providing encouragement and insight for the Columbia team behind Caring Hearts and Hands while still working tirelessly in Joplin to care for guests and their family members.
“I was dealing with grief from the loss of my husband, and that gave me much purpose to help start an end-of-life care home,” Sandy said. “And because of that, that starting gate, it became cathartic to me. It helped ease my grief by making sure that other people had a place to go to, because I did not. Solace House is a community of hearts. And those volunteers that come are so dedicated. They just love it. They just love what they do. Caring Hearts and Hands, it’s going to be very successful, I assure you.”
Both Solace House of the Ozarks and Caring Hearts and Hands of Columbia are part of the Omega Home Network, which provides assistance to developing and operating social-model homes across the country.
Sandy visited Columbia on March 14 for a question and answer session to help share the knowledge she and her team have earned over the past several years.
“There’s no reason for reinventing the wheel, especially if we’re going to be helping a sister city,” Sandy said. “Columbia is special. And those individuals that were there that night that I got to meet are very sincere and very passionate about what they’re trying to do. And we cheer them on; we want them to be successful.”
Solace House began as Sandy gathered others in Joplin with a similar heart, as well as her husband’s oncologist, doctors, nurses, social workers and hospice providers. Within a year, the organization became an official non-profit, and by January of 2020 Sandy signed a lease for a house. They started turning this house into the perfect end-of-life home when COVID hit.
Though the pandemic certainly set them back, it also highlighted an even more intense need for a place like Solace House. With state safety guidelines, families were not allowed into nursing homes or hospitals to visit their dying loved ones. Good-byes were said through windows and phone calls. Many died alone.
So when Solace House finally opened in June of 2020, they were able to provide relief and comfort to many families. They allowed loved ones to visit and stay with their guests within the home – after COVID testing and with masks, of course.
“It was just an answered prayer for a lot of people,” Sandy said. “The timing was just incredible. Now, with that behind us, it’s been full throttle.”
The organization and others like it provide a free home for guests in their last month of life whose care needs cannot be met in their own homes, giving 24-hour support from volunteers for guests’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs. They do not replace medical care, but instead give a space for families to be around their departing loved ones in a caring and supportive environment.
“Oftentimes, when a guest comes to the house, they are exhausted from being in the hospital,” Sandy said. “When they come through those front doors, it’s as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. I have seen it over and over again. Solace House, it is truly transformational. I just can’t explain it any more than that. It’s just they know why we’re there. And we know why they’re there. And it’s just a matter of showing up at the house.”
With two beds in each bedroom, families are welcome to stay around the clock, doing laundry, showering, cooking and doing whatever else there, truly treating it as if they are in their own home.
“It’s not just taking care of the guest,” Sandy expressed. “I have found in the past year that we are really actually caring equally, if not more, for the family members. They are heartsick that they’re going to lose their loved one. And I find that we are picking up the pieces. I said that at the meeting in Columbia, just to be there for a loved one with some hand holding some hugging. It’s just so important. And I cannot emphasize that enough. In many respects, we’ll spend almost the equivalent with the family if not more than with our guest. And the guest is our focus. They’re inseparable.”
Now, Columbia can benefit from the lessons learned by Solace House and can find comfort in the established community of Omega Home Network.
From her experience, Sandy expects that Caring Hearts and Hands will face their biggest challenge in finding volunteers.
“Everything else is easy. It’s just finding the volunteers who have a heart for the mission. Once they come on board, and they have the experience, it’s easy. Our volunteers who have been trained have never left. They love what they do. But finding the volunteers, that’s the biggest challenge that they’re going to have.”
Looking forward, Sandy has high hopes as more areas recognize the need for spaces like Solace House and Caring Hearts and Hands. She recognizes the passionate and sincere hearts within this starting group.
“Once they start, they’re never going to look back,” she said. “Because it’s just going to keep going and going and going. And there’s going to be more houses like this in Missouri and across the nation. I’m just so excited for Columbia. There’s going to be a few hiccups along the way, some things that they didn’t plan for. But once they get that core group of volunteers trained, then they’re off and running. That’s all it’s gonna take.”