Homer Alaska - Outdoors

Story last updated at 2:45 PM on Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Saturday 'for fun' run, walk, stroll benefits hospice

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

Making its way into the increasing number of events for runners, walkers and strollers on the southern Kenai Peninsula is Hospice of Homer's first all-ages Fun Run on Saturday.

With the support of Bear Creek Winery and help from Kachemak Bay Running Club, the three-mile, non-timed event begins with sign-up and registration from 9:30-10:45 a.m., and an 11 a.m. start time. Entry fees are $20 for adults, $30 for a family of any size, and $10 for youths. The course begins at the hospice offices, 910 East End Road, and ends at the winery.

This year's event is in memory of Val Kirsis, a Homer runner who died in 2010. His 3:10:15 finish time in the 2009 Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage qualified the 46-year-old to participate in the Boston Marathon, but it was an opportunity he was never to enjoy.

"Very suddenly, he got critically ill in February 2010 and died five weeks later from cancer," said Lisa Klein Kirsis, who was married to Kirsis and now serves as Hospice of Homer's board president. "The run will not always be in honor of Val, just this first one. Hopefully, we'll be able to memorialize other Homer community members no longer with us in this very respectful, loving way."

Saturday's event has a family focus because, as Kirsis — whose three children are Katie, a high school senior; Megan, a ninth-grader, and Joren, a sixth-grade student — pointed out "death affects everybody."

Kirsis said she was unfamiliar with the services provided by Hospice of Homer until after her husband's death when she received a letter that "very politely" offered information on the program, including free grief counseling.

"I very gratefully participated in the grief counseling weekly and was very appreciative of their services," said Kirsis. "Being a professional mental health clinician myself, I was actually surprised at how incredibly good they are at what they do. They are absolutely professional."

Because the services provided by Hospice of Homer are free for the community, Kirsis said she, board member Christine Griffard and hospice volunteer Vanessa Bale put their heads together to identify fundraising opportunities.

"My husband was a very competitive runner so I happen to know all the runners and thought this might be a good idea," said Kirsis of the Fun Run.

Bill and Dorothy Fry of Bear Creek Winery eagerly joined the effort.

"We've always been a huge supporter of Hospice of Homer," said Dorothy Fry. "We really appreciate that agency. Our family, unfortunately has benefited from them being here and we love being able to do events that help out."

If a three-mile run, walk or stroll isn't fun all by itself, what awaits participants and their supporters at the finish line will be. There will be a wine-tasting, and, because this is a family friendly event, there also will be juice, water, snacks and a play area for youngsters. Bear Creek also has created a wine for the event, with a special label currently being designed.

"We'll donate a portion of the sales directly to Hospice of Homer," said Fry.

Other items that support Hospice of Homer will be available at the end of the three-mile route include four-by-eight-inch memorial pavers that, for a $100 donation, can be placed in the Hospice Memorial Garden at WKFL Park; glass stars to be displayed in memory of a loved one that can be purchased for a $10 donation; See's candy bars that can be purchased for $1 and $1.50.

Donations to Hospice of Homer support services provided by approximately 60 volunteers, said Darlene Hildebrand, executive director of Hospice of Homer.

"They are volunteers that work directly with clients, work in the office, people that move equipment, do bereavement groups, work in the garden and fundraising volunteers," said Hildebrand. "We have a nice number (of volunteers), but never enough."

Training for additional volunteers, including end-of-life support, will be held in October. It includes 33 hours of training. In return, Hospice of Homer requests a year commitment of two to four hours a week.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in someone's life and our own lives, too," said Hildebrand. "It really makes a difference. The best thing one can give to oneself is to be of value to another. It gives purpose and meaning."

Hospice of Homer is open from 9 a.m.-noon, Monday through Thursday or by appointment. For more information about the program volunteering or to make a donation, call 235-6899, or stop by the offices at 910 East End Road.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.