Dream job, dream city for hospice head

Beth Kish looking forward to helping society grow as executive director

Beth Kish was named executive director of the White Rock South Surrey Hospice Society after filling in for the position for 15 months.

Finding herself in the position of executive director of the White Rock South Surrey Hospice Society can be described as somewhat serendipitous for Beth Kish.

Several years ago, when Kish and her young family lived in Okotoks, Alta., she started a home-based interior design business. As the business flourished, Kish began looking for ways to give back to the community, and decided upon becoming a donor for the local hospice society.

“Never knowing in a million years I’d be working in hospice,” Kish laughed, from her office at the WRSS Hospice Society  headquarters on Russell Avenue.

As the Foothills Country Hospice Society south of Calgary continued to grow, so did Kish’s involvement; she donated to the organization’s annual gala each year and contributed a patient room to the hospice residence when it was built.

After a stint as president of the local chamber of commerce, a term on city council and a mayoral bid in 2010 that she lost by only 301 votes, Kish was asked to take the role of executive director for the southern Alberta hospice organization.

All the while, the Kish family made thrice-yearly visits to White Rock, where Kish’s husband, Robert, was born and raised and his parents lived.

“The dream always was that we’d end up here permanently, so when our kids finished university, they both got jobs in Vancouver, and that was all we needed to say, ‘OK, we get to come to B.C.,’” Kish told Peace Arch News last week.

The good fortune she has come by in landing her current role is not lost on her; she was named executive director last month after assuming the role in an interim capacity since June 2014, taking over for Catherine Ferguson who was on sick leave.

“I’m always telling myself how lucky I am,” Kish, 54, said. “It’s not like moving to a community where you’re a hairstylist or in the restaurant industry, and you have options. There’s only one job.”

While it’s been “steady as she goes” for Kish and the hospice society for the past 15 months, the permanency of her position means she has plenty to look forward to in the coming months and years.

Plans are well underway for a supportive-care centre, to be built on 16A Avenue, that the society hopes will be completed within two years. The new location will be walking distance from a new four-storey Fraser Health building, slated for 16A Avenue and 156 Street, which will include 15 hospice beds on the main floor, in addition to mental health and extended care beds on other floors.

The expanded facilities will help the hospice team better serve the community, Kish said, as their clientele continues to grow.

While many in the community may be familiar with the hospice society’s palliative and bereavement care services – which include grief counselling, peer support and education – Kish said there are many other areas in which hospice provides support.

She noted a growing number of “forgotten mourners” in the community – children who have lost a loved one – and noted that hospice volunteers and counsellors also work with local schools in the event of the sudden death of a student.

Hospice services don’t always involve long-term illness, Kish also pointed out, nor are they limited to a loved one’s recent passing.

“There’s no time limit on grief, and we recognize that,” Kish said. “There may be someone in the community who lost somebody two years ago. They’re always welcome. It doesn’t matter how long ago they lost somebody, or who they lost. Grief is grief.”

While the WRSS Hospice Society will have big things on the horizon in the new year, with the launch of a capital campaign to raise $1.6 million for the construction of the supportive-care centre, there are a few fundraising events over the holiday season to help get the ball rolling.

Celebrate a Life at Semiahmoo Shopping Centre launches Dec. 1 and runs through Christmas; donors can purchase a dove to place on a Christmas tree in honour of a loved one. And Peace Arch Rotary Club – which is nearing its $100,000 fundraising goal for hospice – will host its annual Hospice Noel fundraiser at Washington Avenue Grill Nov. 19.

As Kish looks ahead at the future of hospice care in the community, she acknowledges that none of the organization’s work would be possible without the “amazing team” that was in place when she came aboard, including dedicated staff members and volunteers.

“This is such a great team to work with,” Kish said. “Everybody here, their heart is for hospice.”

To find out more about the WRSS Hospice Society, visit www.whiterockhospice.org

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