Rancho Santa Fe woman honored as volunteer of year

RANCHO SANTA FE — The experience surrounding the passing of her father-in-law a few years ago ignited something within Kristy Brehm that would, in turn, improve the lives of patients and families at San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Care for years to come.
Her efforts led to being named United Way/Chad’s Volunteer of the Year in 2009.
At the beginning of a new year, Brehm calls on others to connect with a cause and act on it.
“It’s about doing what’s right to help another person, or pet, or organization that’s in need of volunteers, or funds or even a voice in the community,” she said.
“You have to count on living every single day in a way you believe will make you feel good about your life so that if it were all over tomorrow, you’d be content with yourself.”
Brehm was busy as an interior designer and general contractor whose participation with the hospice was limited to providing financial support until her father-in-law required their services in 2003.
“I called San Diego Hospice,” she said. “Their involvement allowed my mother-in-law to be a spouse and not a 24-hour caregiver. She was able to talk and grieve.”
After being approached to be a board member, she toured the facility and noticed people sleeping on the floor in the family lounge area of the 24-bed Inpatient Care Center.
“I was told the sleeper sofa wasn’t working,” she said. “I didn’t want sick patients worrying about where their family was sleeping so I said I could get sofas with my contacts as an interior designer. That’s when I decided to join the board.”
Brehm was able to get buy-in from manufacturers who offered to donate sleeper sofas for each room at their cost. She also began to solicit donations from friends.
“Board members started writing checks and they passed on the need to their friends and contacts,” she said. “It was like paying it forward. More money came in.”
When she discovered she had more money than she needed, she developed a wish list.
“Then someone gave $125,000,” Brehm said. “She said, ‘Why don’t you do something else on your wish list?’”
The additional money was used to purchase swivel glide rockers, televisions and DVD players for each room at the ICC as well as 12 beds the hospice has at La Costa Glen.
In addition, Brehm used the money to remodel the nurse’s station with new cabinets and countertops, made and donated at cost by her father, that enabled operations to run more efficiently.
As money continued to pour in, Brehm turned her sights on replacing furniture in the reception area.
“This went to the top of my wish list because I’m a big believer in first impressions,” she said.
Deborah Dunne, chief administrative officer of the hospice, cited research proving how building and workplace design can improve clinical outcomes for patients and families and offered a personal anecdote. 
“During a meeting with one of our hospice patients, I asked what they thought of the re-design and the patient exclaimed, ‘I have never been in a place that is so peaceful and caring. I never want to go home,’“ Dunne said.
“Without Kristy’s talent and knowledge, as well as her connections in the building and design industry, the dramatic transformation of our Inpatient Care Center could not have happened.”
Brehm said she is motivated by the fact that the hospice, which serves 1,000 clients a day, never turns anyone down. 
She continues to have the Midas touch.
In addition to renovating the ICC with financial donations that are still coming in, she co-chaired the hospice’s Invitational Golf Tournament which underwrites bereavement programs such as Camp Erin San Diego, a free three-day fun camp, with grief support and counseling for children. The tournament raised $50,000 in 2008 and $80,000 in 2009.
Brehm encourages others to connect with a cause that touches them personally.
“You might read a story in the newspaper,” she said. “You have to find what someone is needing and fill that need.”?
To learn more about local volunteer opportunities visit volunteersandiego.org, volunteermatch.org or sdcounty.ca.gov/cob/volunteer/top.html.

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