WATCH: St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care Celebrates 45 Years of Neighbors Helping Neighbors
By Space Coast Daily // June 2, 2023
WATCH: The legacy of care established by founder St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care Emilie Sasko and a group of volunteers in 1977 has grown to become a multi-faceted provider of care and resources for the residents of Florida’s Space Coast. Forty-five years ago, Sasko drew on her faith, her family, and her friends while inspiring others to join her in the all-volunteer Hospice of St. Francis, which was the second hospice in Florida at that time.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – The legacy of care established by founder St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care Emilie Sasko and a group of volunteers in 1977 has grown to become a multi-faceted provider of care and resources for the residents of Florida’s Space Coast.
Forty-five years ago, Sasko drew on her faith, her family, and her friends while inspiring others to join her in the all-volunteer Hospice of St. Francis, which was the second hospice in Florida at that time.
St. Francis, that gentlest of souls, loved both animals and humans, the young and the old, the healthy and the infirm. In the spirit of this kind man, the staff and volunteers of the non-denominational St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care provide a better quality of life for patients of all ages at any stage of complex illness.
“Our nonprofit was founded on the philosophy of neighbors helping neighbors,” said Joe Killian, President and CEO of St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care.
Formed almost a half-century ago as the Hospice of St. Francis, Brevard’s only not-for-profit comfort care resource changed its name in 2020 to St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care to better reflect its breadth of palliative care, pediatric palliative care, hospice and grief support care for patients and their families.
St. Francis Reflections’ values have not changed since 1977 when Emilie Sasko gathered a handful of volunteers to launch the grassroots hospice from a small house in Titusville.
Now the longest-serving, not-for-profit, independent, interfaith provider of hospice, palliative care, pediatric palliative care and grief support services along the Space Coast, St. Francis Reflections numbers 400 staff and volunteers who serve patients and families throughout the entire county. Facilities, too, have significantly expanded from that little house in North Brevard.
The Edward M. Poe Hospice Care Center, the “house that love built,” is a 12-bed inpatient care center that opened in 2014 in Titusville.
In August of 2021, St. Francis Reflections began construction on a 10-bed hospice care center at Melbourne Regional Medical Center to bring inpatient hospice and respite care closer to home for South Brevard families. The facility will be operational early this year.
In partnership with Courtenay Springs Village located in Merritt Island, St. Francis Reflections opened a hospice care center in November of last year.
These three facilities provide a home-like environment – with round-the-clock professional support – for patients whose symptoms are too complex to manage at home.
Hospice care from St. Francis Reflections Lifestage Care can be delivered in a private home, a nursing home, an assisted living facility, their inpatient facilities, and sometimes in the hospital setting – care wherever you call home.
A Pillar of Service
As community need has evolved, so, too, have services, funded in part through the efforts of the St. Francis Reflections Foundation, the fundraising arm of the nonprofit.
The Foundation hosts special fundraisers such as the February 4th Beatles concert by the tribute band Liverpool Live at the USSSA Space Coast Complex stadium in Viera. All individual gifts, which are tax-deductible, positively impact Brevard residents.
The Foundation depends on volunteers such as board member Donna Ellis to help raise awareness of the important services St. Francis Reflections provides.
“I joined the Foundation because I wanted to be involved in the mission that St. Francis stands by: uplifting lives, uplifting each other and uplifting our community,” said Ellis.
As a former nurse and administrator, Foundation committee member Kate Killian has witnessed how much hospice care can benefit both patients and their families.
“The quality care and compassion St. Francis Reflections provides inspired me to join and support the Foundation,” said Killian. “It is an excellent way to initiate positive changes that will benefit the patients, their families and the residents of Brevard County.”
Caring for Younger Patients
Through the generosity of donors, the Foundation supports the St. Francis’ Pediatric Palliative Care for youngsters with life-limiting or chronic conditions. St. Francis Reflections is the state’s only provider of choice for Partners in Care: Together for Kids in Brevard County.
The program includes pain and symptom control, nursing and personal care, counseling, art, music and play therapies, and respite care and bereavement support for families.
“We’re the only program of its kind in the Brevard County area,” said Gina Crane, RN, clinical manager.
For a three-year-old child, a small but still significant part of the support came in the form of a teddy bear. He was gifted with a very special teddy bear by a St. Francis Reflections child specialist to uplift his spirits and provide comfort during a time of anxiety.
“He immediately fell in love with it,” said Gina Crane, RN, clinical manager.
Another pediatric palliative care patient was feeling down and needed an escape from the circumstances surrounding his critical illness. Enter hospital visitors Captain America and Cat Woman, alter egos of bereavement coordinator Alex Navarro and Rachel Steakley, St. Francis Reflections Chaplain.
“It brightened the day for him and his mother. His smile lit up the entire room,” said Gina Crane.
“These special moments are the ones we treasure the most.”
St. Francis’ pediatric services also encompass NorthStar, a child grief program of compassionate support groups for children and their families who have lost a loved one. The specially trained staff utilizes a variety of techniques and skills through play, stories, and peer interactions to help children.
“It can be the loss of parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a best friend, anyone they have loved and lost,” said child grief coordinator Lynn Kiefer. “Our programs are free of charge and include trust-building activities and age-based support groups that break the emotional isolation grief often brings.”
In addition to support groups, the program offers special events such as holiday celebrations that help families to rediscover the magic of the season.
Caring for Veterans
Foundation support also assists St. Francis Reflections’ We Honor Veterans program, part of a network of similar programs organized by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Because of its exceptional commitment to the veterans in our community, the program is recognized as a Level Five partner of We Honor Veterans, the highest possible standard.
“The Level Five recognition demonstrates our high level of commitment to the veterans in our community,” said Christine Tate, community engagement coordinator.
Retired military volunteers play an important role in the program, which compiles the veterans’ military experience to share with their loved ones.
“In many cases, families learn facts they didn’t know before,” said Tate.
A pinning ceremony attended by family and friends celebrates these heroes’ service to their country. The veterans also receive a special quilt that will later serve families as a tactile memory.
“It’s an honor to recognize and thank our veterans for their service,” said Christine Tate, community engagement coordinator for St. Francis’ Veteran Services.
Tate and her team also pay respect to veterans through the permanent installation of “Walls of Honor” that include the names of all veterans—be they hospice patients or not—at retirement homes, skilled nursing facilities and senior centers throughout the county.
Caring for Patients’ Pets
Pet parents who are in hospice often worry about what will happen to their companion animals. Because of support from the St. Francis Reflections Foundation, hospice patients have the peace of mind that their beloved fur babies will be in good hands for the rest of their animals’ lives.
Through partnerships with community experts in animal care, they can help find a loving home if no other options exist, and can facilitate this transition when the time comes.
“We understand that pets are not just animals, they are part of the family,” said Ivory.
Caring for the Community
As a community-based organization, St. Francis Reflections Foundation needs caring supporters from the community to become involved by volunteering their time or by financially supporting its mission to uplift the lives of our community.
Consider being part of this community of caring. Call 321-360-3456 or visit Reflectionslsc.org/about/foundation.