For Emmanuel Hospice, every day is an opportunity to honor veterans 

Staff pictured: Jessie Nestor, GVSU MSW Intern, David Veldt, spiritual caregiver and Navy veteran (in uniform), Matt Schipper, director of Support Services and Navy veteran (green and white shirt), Vern Bareman, spiritual caregiver (red shirt)

At Emmanuel Hospice, Veterans Day is more than a 24-hour period set aside to honor those who have served in our country’s military.

Nov. 11 is also an annual reminder to seek out opportunities every day to better serve the men and women who have put their lives on the line for a grateful nation and now find themselves in hospice care.

“Every time we meet a patient for the first time, we’re careful to document what sort of military service they might have,” says Matthew Schipper, director of support services for Emmanuel. “We chronicle all their connections to the military and develop a full profile of their service. We also involve family members where appropriate, all in an effort to deliver the best care possible to that patient.”

For Schipper, the work is personal, as he served 10 years in the U.S. Navy after graduating from a West Michigan high school in 2006.

“I signed the papers to enlist in 2005, even before finishing school, and served as a mechanic aboard nuclear submarines,” he notes.

Since joining Emmanuel Hospice nearly three years ago, Schipper has witnessed countless ways in which staff has dug deep to honor his comrades.

Some of the most moving revolve around “pinning ceremonies,” where a patient is formally honored while surrounded by loved ones, accepting a special pin as Emmanuel’s way of expressing its gratitude. The session can last up to a half-hour and include prayer, song, recitations and input from staff as well as family and friends.

“The service can have a tremendous impact on the patient and his family,” Schipper says.

Emmanuel Hospice offers these pinning ceremonies as part of the We Honor Veterans program, a collaboration of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Department of Veterans Affairs, which guides the organization to meet the unique needs of vets and their families by offering education, specialized guidance and resources aimed at ensuring they meet a peaceful and honorable ending to their lives.

Emmanuel has worked in other ways to lift up veterans, including the use of Oculus Go headsets and the “Honor Everywhere” app, which offers a virtual reality experience for veterans who are too sick or frail to physically travel on an Honor Flight. Using this technology, veterans are able to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. as if they were there in person.

Emmanuel Hospice also collaborates with the Ottawa County Juvenile Courts Lighthouse Program, a short-term residential program for girls, to engage area youth in making handmade cards for veterans and other patients.

“It’s all about expressing our gratitude, and in ways that are especially meaningful,” says Jenny Kellogg, Emmanuel’s support programs manager. “Toward that end, we provide our staff and volunteers with veteran-centric education, and create awareness of our patients who are veterans so we can address the unique needs they might have.”

Improving care for veterans aligns with Emmanuel’s mission in general, says Kellogg, noting that Emmanuel is focused on “how you want to live.”

“We create individualized plans that suit our patients’ physical, spiritual and emotional needs,” Kellogg explains. “Our veterans – and indeed all our patients – deserve nothing less.”

Volunteers: The Backbone of Emmanuel Hospice

The United States reportedly relies on more than 60 million volunteers.

Emmanuel Hospice is proud to count some four dozen of them among its ranks, men and women characterized as a “huge blessing” by Jackie Chandler, who serves as volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit provider of hospice care.

“Our ranks include volunteers who see patients face-to-face, as well as office volunteers, folks who make bereavement calls to families who have lost a loved one, and volunteers who check in to make sure homes and independent living facilities have the supplies they need,” she says. “To say we’re grateful for their selfless service would be a huge understatement.”

Chandler is especially thankful for Emmanuel volunteers during the ongoing pandemic, which has completely shut down other volunteer programs at some hospices nationally.

“We’re working extra hard to stay connected and keep our people engaged,” she says.

Those who work in close proximity to patients, she stresses, undergo rigorous training that includes understanding how to use personal protection equipment and abide by protocols that safeguard human health.

Kathy Kregel is among the active volunteers at Emmanuel Hospice these days, a Wisconsin native and married mother of three who moved to Michigan in 1983. She worked for a grocery chain and at other jobs before retiring in 2018 and deciding to pitch in at Emmanuel.

“Growing up, I had a really good friend who had Down Syndrome,” Kregel explains. “That gave me a heart for just being a friend to those in need.”

Kregel’s motivation to assist others also stems from enduring the deaths of both parents and a sister-in-law over the last dozen years. And in her own words, “When I volunteer, I’m reflecting Jesus’ love and Jesus’ smile.”

Chandler remembers first meeting with Kregel, showing her a list of patients seeking someone to visit them. Kregel’s first question was, “Who’s been waiting the longest?” Chandler answered that it was someone who lived an hour away. “I’ll take him,” Kregel said.

According to Chandler, most of Emmanuel’s volunteers serve in companion roles to patients and families. Close behind are those involved in providing pet visits. On the rise are veterans stepping up to volunteer to support other veterans who are hospice patients.

Chandler is both awed and humbled by the West Michigan culture that seems to be especially benevolent.

“There are a lot of faith roots here,” she notes. “It’s a deep sense of community, almost as though we feel a responsibility to participate and give back. People who live in this region are unique that way.”

Kregel acknowledges she gets more in return than what she gets when she volunteers, and that she does it in part to honor the legacy of her own late parents.

“Being part of Emmanuel Hospice is an opportunity to honor people who have gone before you,” she explains. “And Emmanuel has been just amazing to volunteer for. I love who they are, and everything they stand for.”

Executive Director Sara Lowe Joins Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association Board of Directors

Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice, has been elected to the Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association Board of Directors for a two-year term.

MHHA is a state trade association representing more than 300 members from the home care and hospice industry and is the primary provider of home health education in Michigan. Its 16-member board provides oversight of all MHHA activities, including legislative and regulatory advocacy, and the continued advancement of home care best practices.

“I’m honored by the opportunity to represent Emmanuel Hospice through this role on the board of the Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association,” Lowe said. “MHHA’s commitment to the continued advancement of health care in our state is right in line with Emmanuel’s efforts to expand the boundaries of care for our patients and their loved ones.

“I look forward to contributing to the ongoing efforts of MHHA to positively impact the home health care and hospice industry.”

MHHA was established in 1981 and serves as the “unified voice, principal resource and advocate for the success of its member organizations as best practice providers of home health, hospice, private duty, home medical equipment and pharmacy-infusion services for the residents of Michigan.”

The association supports and promotes cost-saving projects and industry research. It also facilitates “understanding, cooperation and communication among home health care providers” and serves as a liaison with other organizations at local, state and national levels.

More information about the trade association is available at

Emmanuel Hospice’s Virtual Annual Celebration to Benefit Quality End-of-Life Care, Provide Support for Families

Emmanuel Hospice invites the West Michigan community to join its virtual annual celebration from Sept. 22–Oct. 1.

Presented by CareLinc Medical Equipment, the online signature event will offer supporters, wherever they are, an opportunity to engage with the organization’s mission as frequently as they wish at

The event page will feature inspirational stories from those the nonprofit has served, a silent auction and opportunities to invest in the future of Emmanuel Hospice.

This is the second year Emmanuel has hosted its signature event virtually due to COVID-19. The nonprofit hopes to build on the success of last year’s online event, which raised more than $55,000.

“Our team is known for meeting each person exactly where they are, and for meeting each challenge with creativity and compassion,” said Sara Lowe, executive director of Emmanuel Hospice. “In that same spirit, we’re keeping with last year’s successful virtual experience model to safely celebrate our work with the community.

“We invite all families, caregivers, volunteers and community members to join us to expand the boundaries of care, ensuring every last moment is cherished and lived with integrity.”

This year’s event goal is to raise $75,000 to support Emmanuel Hospice complementary therapies and services, including funding for a new complementary service, the Art Legacy program.

Art Legacy is designed to engage patients by encouraging self-expression while assisting in symptom management, supporting memories and providing connection between the patient, loved ones and Emmanuel care team. Art Legacy allows the patient the ability to control and create, which can also offer caregivers new insight into a patient’s life or their thoughts and feelings during their hospice journey.

Funds will also be used to support new programs that rely on technology, which has long been a part of Emmanuel’s holistic approach to serving its patients and families – and made more critical by the pandemic.

In 2020, Emmanuel launched a new telehealth program to continue serving patients and facilitate family interaction amid visitor restrictions in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Emmanuel’s nurses, social workers, spiritual caregivers, music therapists and other team members are able to provide virtual care at the bedside through the use of iPads and specially designed transport carts.

Technology has also been integrated with many of Emmanuel’s complementary therapies and services to provide support and overcome barriers. For example, the use of virtual reality headsets and videos through the Flight To Remember Foundation allow patients to tour a meaningful location they’re unable to visit physically. The virtual annual celebration will highlight these offerings, new programs and other unique aspects about the nonprofit organization.

Andy Holtgreive, a consultant of ARIA Show Technology, one of the annual celebration’s sponsors, said Emmanuel Hospice’s early adoption of technology is a reflection of the organization’s commitment to continual improvement.

“Emmanuel Hospice is a tremendously progressive organization in everything they do from the care they provide to the way they engage the community,” Holtgreive said. “With the end user in mind, Emmanuel Hospice creates the highest level of virtual value and meaning for their community of supporters with a clear intention and purpose to their mission.”

With more than 90 team members and growing, the hospice care provider is now serving more than 175 patients daily in Kent and the surrounding counties. The organization also provides grief counseling and support services annually to more than 2,000 family members and community members.

Emmanuel Hospice has twice been named one of West Michigan’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For by the National Association for Business Resources for its commitment to excellence in human resource practices and employee enrichment. In 2020, the nonprofit provider of hospice care also received recognition on the national level.


About Emmanuel Hospice
Emmanuel Hospice is a faith-based nonprofit provider of compassionate, person-centered hospice care to patients and families in West Michigan. Serving the community since 2013, the organization is a collaborative effort of St. Ann’s, Clark, Porter Hills and Sunset designed to complete the continuum by providing end-of-life care to those inside – and outside – the walls of these organizations. For more information, visit

Emmanuel Hospice Embraces Technology to Better Serve its Patients and Families

One patient went across the country to visit a favorite lake in California. Another traveled to Romania to take in views of the village where she’d been born. And yet a third fulfilled a dream of embarking on a hot air balloon ride.

In all three instances, none of these patients left the comfort of their own home. They were transported virtually, thanks to an innovative partnership between Emmanuel Hospice and The Flight To Remember Foundation, which uses drone technology to allow patients to tour a
meaningful location they’re unable to visit physically.

“Part of our mission is to keep asking ourselves how we can expand the boundaries of care and build bigger and better tools,” says Heather Duffy, Emmanuel’s director of fund development. “In every instance, we want to be able to answer ‘yes’ to a patient wondering if we can do something to help them live their best life.”

Since its inception, Emmanuel has constantly strived to integrate technology into its menu of complementary therapies. But the issue was especially driven home during the ongoing pandemic, which prompted caregivers to seek alternative ways of interacting with and providing services to some patients.

“It became especially tricky with visiting restrictions,” observes Katie VanRyn, a social worker for Emmanuel. “But in recognizing the importance of connecting with our staff and with a patient’s loved ones, it became vital for us to pivot and adapt.”

Fueled by a passion to serve, Emmanuel sought and acquired funding to purchase iPads, Oculus virtual reality headsets and other technology that allowed patients to interact remotely.

“Even though a patient might enjoy my visit with them,” VanRyn says. “I know they’d rather be with family and friends, and when I can make those connections, that’s very fulfilling for us all.”

Perhaps the most innovative technological advance is via The Flight to Remember Foundation, founded in Ohio in 2015 and dedicated to providing “priceless moments of happiness during life’s most trying times.”

The nonprofit foundation partners with a network of volunteer drone pilots worldwide who honor requests to create videos of meaningful places a patient is unable to visit, but yearns to see one more time. The pilots use their small, unmanned craft to fly to a height of 400 feet to take in the vistas, then create a high-quality video which is then digitally transferred to the hospice to be shared with the patient. The patient is given the option of preserving the video in whatever format best suits them – a DVD, flash drive or via a digital link, for instance.

“Through virtual reality and the flights to remember, we’re providing something that would not otherwise be possible, usually due to a physical limitation,” Duffy says. “From the comfort of their home, they can go on a roller-coaster ride, take a hike through the mountains, ride a gondola – anything that brings comfort fulfillment, connection or joyful moments to our patients.

“It’s our way of offering more love, more care and more peace to more people in our community who need it most.”