Hundreds of people, families, and friends flooded downtown Valparaiso’s Central Park Plaza this Sunday afternoon, all with a common purpose: to remember loved ones they’ve lost, share their stories, and show love and support for the Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) of Northwest Indiana and their hospice program.
Maria Galka, Director of Development for the VNA, says that the Stroll for Hospice is a way for anyone who has known the loss of a loved one to honor their memory.
“We invite families and individuals from around the area to come out and remember someone they’ve lost; it doesn’t have to be a family member, just somebody who they love and they miss,” Galka said. “We invite those people to start a new tradition, to come out here and join us. Many of those here today also raised pledges, which will go as donations to support the hospice program.”
Galka said that the event typically raises around $20,000, but hopes that this year will be even better, due to record attendance.
“We had over 470 people who pre-registered, and more who are registering here today, so we’ll have well over 500 people here today, in addition to more than 70 volunteers,” Galka said. “It’s the volunteers who really help make this event possible.”
“This event certainly means a lot to the VNA, but I think that it means even more to the families,” said Bob Franko, President and CEO of the VNA. “That’s what’s really important. It’s a chance for people to come out here, spend some time together and remember their loved ones.”
“Everyone has a story, and this gives them a chance to come together and share their stories,” Franko said.
More than just a walk, the event offered a variety of activities, including a bounce castle, face painting, coloring, balloon animals and crafts. Baskets were raffled and a live DJ provided entertainment. Participants were invited to take a leisurely two-mile walk through Valparaiso’s beautiful downtown district before returning to the Urschel Pavilion for complimentary hamburgers, hot dogs, salad and more. Free ice cream samples were available, courtesy of Culver’s, and free pretzel bites from Ben’s Pretzels were sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Meredith Seydel and Christy Vice, both from Valparaiso, were walking with the largest single group of people at the event, Tony’s Troopers, who showed up to the Stroll for Hospice with 75 team members.
“We’re here to support our good friend, Jaime Perz. Jaime is very grateful for the care and compassion that hospice provided for her mother,” said Seydel. “Jaime just put it out there that she was looking for people to come here and walk with her, and here we are!”
“It’s a great time to spend with friends and family,” added Seydel.
Carolyn Hartley is a volunteer for the VNA and its hospice program.
“Each one of us has had someone served by hospice,” Hartley said. “If we didn’t have the VNA, a place to help when you have a loved one who is nearing end-of-life, it would be incredibly difficult for families. They just do wonderful things.”
The VNA Stroll for Hospice is held annually. Pre-registration is $10 per individual walker, children 18 and under are free. Teams of 6 or more may register for $50 per team. In addition to registration, walkers may raise donations for the VNA. Anyone collecting donations of $100 or more will be honored with memorial signs will be personalized with their loved one’s name placed along the VNA Stroll for Hospice route. Individuals and teams who raise $500 or more will receive a memorial sign and an 8x8-inch memorial brick, personally inscribed and placed in the Arthur B. and Ethel V. Horton VNA Hospice Center Walk of Friends. For those raising $1,000 or more, they will receive a memorial sign plus a memorial plaque, personally inscribed and placed inside the VNA Hospice Center. Awards will be presented to the individual and team raising the most in donations, to the individual and team with the highest number of donors, and also to the largest team.
For more information about the VNA and their hospice services, visit them online at https://vnanwi.org/.