Volunteer Spotlight: Anne and John Kanitra

Last year volunteers Anne and John Kanitra worked the Tree of Life for the first time, and it wasn’t exactly what they had expected.

“We did a Saturday night and a couple of ladies came up to the table,” John said. “They had just lost their young child and she’s telling us all about it and we’re both choking back tears.

“After they left we looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my gosh, is it going to be like this the whole three hours? I’ll never survive this. It’s so hard,’” he laughed.

John and Anne work in home care and do multiple
shifts at the Tree of Life.
Luckily, the rest of that first shift went pretty smoothly and it didn’t scare them off. They kept coming back, every Saturday in fact, in what has now become a tradition in itself. They first go to church, then grab dinner at the mall before going to their Tree of Life shift.

When Anne first heard about the Tree of Life she said it was a no-brainer as to whether or not they should sign up.

“To take a couple hours and sit at those tables is no problem at all for us,” she said. “What else are we going to be doing? Watching TV?”

Working the Tree of Life lets them do two things. One, they get to do community outreach about what hospice is and what exactly hospice does. John said the Tree of Life is an easy way for people to get information about hospice without having to call or go online. He and Anne can help get the message out that hospice isn’t a scary word, and isn’t all dark and gloomy.

Two, they get to hear people’s stories, which is one of their favorite parts about volunteering. And since they both volunteer in home care, they hear a lot of stories.

“It’s a privilege to go and see someone’s life,” John said. “When you connect with somebody – the relief you give the caregiver – it’s wonderful. It’s very inspirational to me.”

John and Anne at last year's Volunteer Appreciation
Anne and John know about that sort of caregiver relief. In 2011 Anne’s mom was an Angela Hospice patient and she said she utilized the volunteers, especially because she was working full-time and couldn’t always get home right away.

Anne’s mom also went into the Care Center a few times, which couldn’t have been a better experience.

“I absolutely fell in love with every single person at Angela Hospice,” she said. “From the volunteers, to spiritual care, to nurses and doctors…everybody was just so kind to her.”

So when John mentioned volunteering at Angela Hospice, Anne jumped at the chance. Both had recently retired from the Dearborn Police Department and the timing seemed perfect. (Anne actually went back to a different job about four days after retiring, but that’s a different story.)

John said the thought of volunteering all started for him at a mass at St. Edith. The priest had been talking about trying to discern what God’s plan for you is and to use your God-given talents. John thought he didn’t have any, but then their oldest son, who had recently started volunteering at a hospice in Lansing, was telling them stories about his time there. Then John saw that Angela Hospice needed volunteers. He called and they got into a new volunteer class the following week. The rest is history.

“[Volunteering] is just so powerful,” John said. “It changed our lives.”

And they both hope to keep volunteering…well, forever.

“I don’t see an end to it,” Anne said before looking at John. “Do you?”

“Nope,” he smiled.

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