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Vesper Hospice and Home Care

Although the concept of hospice—providing refuge for the sick—is centuries old, the first hospice in the United States wasn’t established until 1974. Shortly after that, in 1979, Vesper Society opened one of the first hospices west of the Mississippi. Physician Dame Cicely Saunders opened the first modern hospice in 1967 in a residential suburb of London. These were groundbreaking years when Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” in 1969 and testified in Congress in 1972 on the subject of death and dignity. Florence Wald, Dean of the Yale School of Nursing, learned all she could from Dame Cicely Saunders and, in Connecticut in 1974, started the first U.S. hospice with funding from the National Cancer Institute. After that, the second U.S. hospice was formed – this time in California – Hospice of Marin. Following this example of service to community, Vesper Hospice was created in 1979, becoming the second California hospice, and emphasized the dignity and integrity of terminally ill patients. Vesper Hospice encouraged patients to live the fullest life possible until the time of death. By treating symptoms, especially needless pain, patients were able to focus on the quality of life during their remaining days. Later in 1979, Vesper Home Care was created to help individuals receive quality health care in their homes. Recent surgery, debilitating illness or injury requires a period of regrouping to deal with a dramatic shift in one’s life, and home is often the best place to receive care and comfort. For the majority of Vesper Home Care elderly patients, being surrounded by family was important for recovery. Over the years, these programs helped tens of thousands of patients. By 1995, the health care structures and economic systems were changing throughout the country and, most rapidly so, in California, and. As a... Read More

Knox Dental Clinic, Jamaica

In the hills of rural Jamaica, Vesper Society helped start a dental clinic in the late 1970s on the Knox College campus. This is a story about vision, relationships, and service. Born in Glasgow, Rev. Lewis Davidson set sail for Jamaica in 1939. In 1941, he petitioned the Synod to start a new Presbyterian congregation and recommended that a new education center be built on Spalding Hill. In 1945, Rev. Davidson was appointed by the Foreign Mission Committee of the Church of Scotland to be head of this new education center, later named Knox College. His vision to create a cradle-to-grave education for people of all walks of life had begun. While lecturing at Knox College in 1975, Mark Gibbs, a Vesper Fellow, learned from Rev. Davidson that there was only one part-time dentist serving over 50,000 people in the region. Together with Vesper co-founder Bob Cummings and Vesper President George Spindt, they worked out an agreement in which Knox College would supply the land and building materials and Vesper would provide the design, construction supervision, and equipment for the dental clinic as well as a cottage for visiting dentists. In 1978, Vesper Society secured the gift of a dental laboratory with the assistance of a New York dentist. San Francisco Bay Area dentists donated an additional dental suite, and a generator was installed that enabled the clinic to remain in operation during the frequent electrical failures. It was that same year that staffing the Dental Clinic became possible through a cooperative effort of San Leandro dentists, Dental Schools of University of California and University of the Pacific, and the World Brotherhood Exchange of the Lutheran Council USA. At Rev. Davidson’s memorial in 1981, his Knox College co-founder Mr. David Bent paid tribute to him, stating that “in addition... Read More

Central America Roundtables

Recognizing a need in a region torn by civil war, Vesper Society was part of a partnership that orchestrated a series of Central America Roundtables aimed at achieving peace. In 1990, Vesper Society partnered with Georgetown University and the Washington Center for Central American Studies to sponsor a roundtable discussion among top-level representatives from across the political spectrum in El Salvador. A second roundtable was held in 1991 to continue these discussions among government, labor, church, military, and insurgent parties to find common ground by focusing on long-range planning for post-war progress and prosperity. The roundtables were successful and made a significant impact on the peace process. The civil war in El Salvador came to an end in 1992. These gatherings were a precursor to the first Guatemala Roundtable that contributed to their 1996 peace accords. In 1993, the United Nations asked the international community to actively participate in supporting the formal Guatemalan peace process through organizing projects focusing on informal diplomacy. In response, Dr. Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and Vesper Society collaborated to support the peace process in Guatemala. Vesper Society’s mission at that time was to create opportunities for individuals and institutions to apply moral and ethical values in decision-making on critical social and economic issues. Our vision was to create a compassionate world that protects human dignity and enhances human potential. This vision guided the methodology of bringing together carefully-selected individuals in a structure that provided a direct experience with a working democracy—giving equal worth and opportunity to all participants and utilizing techniques designed to move participants beyond their narrow individual interests into a larger vision of the common good. The 1994 roundtable was held in San Francisco’s Presidio and aimed to assist in creating conditions for a... Read More

HIV/AIDS Treatment

South Africa has the largest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world. This is the story of a leader in a rural town in South Africa who, in the face of this devastation, created a program that inspired others to serve their communities. Masangane was founded in 2002, and is named for the Xhosa word for “embrace.” Together with a group of volunteers from various Moravian congregations, the late Rev. Mgcoyi, a retired school principal and Moravian pastor, launched a home-based orphan care project in a rural town on the Eastern Cape of South Africa called Matatiele; population 6,000. After hearing about life-saving HIV and AIDS medications, Rev. Mgcoyi and the other volunteers wrote numerous letters to Lutheran and Moravian partner congregations and the Evangelical Association of Mission and Churches (EMS) in Southwest Germany. The response from Germany was overwhelmingly positive and, in June 2002, a treatment fund was established. Doctors Without Borders and Treatment Action Campaign staff monitored and supervised Masangane’s distribution of antiretroviral (ARV) medication. At that time, despite the South African government adopting an ARV program in 2003, Masangane was the only source of free ARVs in the predominantly poor rural population. The success was phenomenal. Masangane’s continuum of care was successful because they reached the very ill and moved them quickly onto ARVs and because they used an effective treatment literacy program developed by Doctors Without Borders. Adherence to the ARVs was very good. The routine of taking medication was linked to a daily bible reading ritual, and strong support groups gave crucial hope and encouragement. These program elements and successes resulted in many patients recovering in three to six months. In 2005, Vesper Society began supporting the Masangane program as an integrated HIV/AIDS program where orphans were cared for, sick parents were... Read More

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