When you walk into JourneyCare on Monday mornings, you’re greeted by the unmistakable scent of baked goods wafting from the kitchen. If you follow your nose, it will lead you to sisters Jennifer Kainz and Julie Baily, who bake their hearts out each week for hospice patients and their families. It’s their way of giving back while honoring their mom, Susan Kennedy, who passed away at JourneyCare last February. Since the weekend before Thanksgiving marks Family Volunteer Day, it’s the perfect time to share this sweet story of sisters giving their time and talent to the community.
This past summer, Julie Baily, of Cary, was looking for a way to volunteer her time when she stumbled upon a JourneyCare opportunity on VolunteerMatch.org.
“The first thing that popped up was baking at JourneyCare,” Julie says. “I thought it was a sign – my mom had recently passed away here, and my sisters and I love to bake.”
Julie immediately applied online, and was quickly contacted by Amy O’Donnell, JourneyCare’s Lead Volunteer Coordinator. Julie and Jennifer attended a volunteer training session, which are held monthly, and completed an online sanitation course. By August, the two sisters were in the kitchen, whipping up cookies by the dozen.
Julie and Jennifer get all of their recipes from a cookbook they assembled of their mom’s tried-and-true favorites, entitled “Glad you liked it!” (which is what their mom said each time she received a compliment on her cooking). The book has become the family’s cooking bible, and they love sharing their mom’s recipes with others.
The sisters’ late mom, Susan Kennedy (formerly of Barrington Hills) was a pro at cooking for a large crew: she had nineteen children and step-children to cook for each day (yes, you read that right).
“She froze a lot,” says Julie. “We had 45 to 50 people for Thanksgiving every year – and she had it down to a science. She always made 8 pies, which she learned how to make when she was six years old.”
Jennifer recalls her mother, who never had a driver’s license, cooking nearly nonstop. “The kitchen was the heart of our home, and it just makes sense that it should become the heart of this home,” Jennifer says.
Baking at JourneyCare has become a family affair, too: Julie and Jennifer are often joined by both their sister, Sarah Robinson, and their sister-in-law, Paula Voska (owner of ZaZa’s Tavola in North Barrington, and the newly opened Incontro A Tavola in South Barrington).
“It’s a great way to give back,” Jennifer says. “We spent three nights here with our mom, and it was just an amazing experience with wonderful nurses and staff. We’re honoring them, and also our mom, who loved to cook and continues to keep us together in the kitchen!”
The sisters start baking at 9 on Monday mornings, and are generally done by 11. Volunteer Jenny Powell purchases all of the ingredients early on Monday mornings (she donates her time by shopping and running errands for JourneyCare), so they are ready and waiting when the sisters arrive. The measuring and mixing begins (there might be a bit of butter involved), then the sisters slide cookie sheets into the warm ovens.
When the cookies are crisp at the edges – and by which time several people have poked their heads into the kitchen, asking if they’re done yet – Julie and Jennifer assemble them onto trays and begin their rounds.
The cookies, and the baking sisters, are always warmly received.
“We never know how the families are going to react to the cookies, and the last thing we want to do is intrude,” Jennifer says. “But this one time we walked in, and the woman looked up at me and said, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this a dream?'” Even for patients who can’t eat the cookies, the smell is a reminder of home.
“Staff members like to have the cookies too,” Julie says. “We try to find out if there’s a meeting going on, so then we can bring them a tray of cookies too. They don’t go to waste!”
Amy O’Donnell is thrilled to have the “Baking Sisters” in the JourneyCare kitchen. The facility, which gleams with stainless steel professional appliances, is unique to JourneyCare’s Barrington location — but they get most of their food from The Garlands, a nearby retirement community.
“We hired a consultant earlier this year to help us revamp our volunteer goals here in the hospice center,” Amy says. “We now have over 35 different ways for people to volunteer. For baking, we thought we have this great kitchen that we’re not really using. We needed to find a team of volunteers to really take ownership of it.”
The kitchen is already a good example of how JourneyCare grows their volunteer programs. Initially, they bought premade dough from GFS and simply baked it at JourneyCare. The addition of Julie and Jennifer baking from scratch on site, using their family recipes, aligns perfectly with the goal of hospice: to create a home away from home.
Amy especially looks forward to the continued growth of the cooking volunteer program. “Maybe next year we’ll be able to cook Thanksgiving dinner in our kitchen!”
Amy says the baking sisters were exactly what JourneyCare needed. “We are so thankful for them, and for all of our volunteers. We couldn’t do this without them, and the patients and families benefit so much from their efforts.”
Among JourneyCare’s areas of need at are bereavement support, patient care, helping pediatric patients’ families, special event planning, and office help. If you have a specific talent you’d like to contribute, Amy encourages you to reach out to her. “That’s one of the great things about JourneyCare: there are so many unique ways to volunteer here,” Amy says. “If I had just posted a need for hospice volunteers, Julie might never have found us.”
Volunteering at JourneyCare can truly be a family activity: Jennifer’s daughters also volunteer as part of the JourneyCare Juniors program. The program, which currently includes about 30 young volunteers from 4th to 8th grade, provides hands-on service projects.
Amy O’Donnell coordinates these activities, which she says are really fun and meaningful for their youth volunteers. “November is National Hospice & Palliative Care month, so I wanted the kids to be exposed to all of the different roles in hospice and palliative care.” She set up stations, and the Juniors rotated through, learning important skills like how to change an occupied bed. They also built winter car safety kits for JourneyCare’s mobile staff, who log over 1 million miles on the road each year.
Jennifer says her daughters loved the meeting, and look forward to their Juniors activities. “It’s so good for them, and they really enjoy being able to contribute in a meaningful way.” They have also made no-sew fleece blankets, which were delivered along with soup to JourneyCare’s many home-bound patients in honor of MLK Day (over 90% of JourneyCare’s patients are in this category).
High school students can apply to be on JourneyCare’s youth advisory board. At 16, youth can access nearly all volunteer opportunities. From 4th grade through age 102 (Marie Schaak has the honor of being JourneyCare’s oldest volunteer), there are opportunities for everyone!
Located by Citizens Park at 405 Lake Zurich Road in Barrington, JourneyCare provides compassionate end-of-life care, pain and symptom management to 900 patients a day in ten Illinois counties making every moment count for those touched by serious illness and loss.
For more information on JourneyCare’s services and volunteer opportunities, visit JourneyCare.com or contact Amy O’Donnell at 224-770-2412 or by email at AODonnell@journeycare.org.