By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Photo by Juan Carlos/Ventura County Star

Freeing families to love — one last time

March 8, 2015

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - Wayne Zellner took one last bath, splashed on Old Spice and put on his favorite hat before lying down and taking his final breath at Our Community House of Hope.

“I didn’t know he had only days left,” recalled his daughter, Pam Seligman, of Newbury Park.

She admitted her dad on Jan. 28 to Our Community House of Hope, a nonprofit facility in Thousand Oaks that provides end-of-life care. On Feb. 2, Zellner died at age 75.

“He said, ‘I just need a 5-minute nap,’ so I tucked him in, cuddled in the blanket,” Seligman remembered. “A few minutes later ... that was the end.”

Seligman expressed gratitude to Our Community House of Hope for caring for her father in his final days, allowing the family to focus solely on loving him.

On March 13, Our Community House of Hope will celebrate 1,000 days of care with an anniversary dinner fundraiser at the Westlake Village Inn.

“The kindness of the Ventura County community is the only reason this effort is successful,” said Executive Director Ann Sobel, noting the nonprofit organization is funded by individuals, foundations and the business community.

“From individuals who have given financially to the medical community that has provided training and referrals,” Sobel said, “it has all come together for the good of those who are dying.

While most people choose to die at home, sometimes that’s not possible, Sobel said. “In those cases, a home away from home is the answer,” she said.

Our Community House of Hope was founded by two nurses who needed hospice for a family member and found nothing was available. They eventually opened a four-bedroom home in Thousand Oaks that provides round-the-clock care.

“When this happened to my dad, I was just a mess,” said Seligman, whose father was in the hospital and palliative care before moving to the home, where staff members don’t wear medical uniforms, carry stethoscopes on their necks or have blood pressure cuffs in their pockets.

“It’s a home and not a hospital situation,” Seligman said.

Each resident receives medical care in a homelike setting with a garden and living room where volunteers play piano and guitar. Therapy pets can visit.

“Families go there and celebrate their life,” Seligman said. “That’s all part of the process of getting to the end. It allowed me to be the daughter and not the caregiver. I did not have to worry about his comfort or his pain — all of that was always managed, so I got to hold my dad’s hand the entire time.”

Teresa Wolf, co-founder of Our Community House of Hope, said that’s the whole point.

“Our work is 50 percent with the families of those who are dying,” Wolf said. “These families become part of our family when they come through our doors.”

Services are free. The ratio is one caregiver to three residents; volunteer nurses and lay people are available to help with anything the resident or family needs.

“The plan not only includes the steps necessary to provide comfort for the individual, but what foods they like, what is their favorite type of music, who would they like to see or talk to, and what their end-of-life desires are,” Sobel said.

Our Community House of Hope has served 113 people and their families since it opened in March 2012.

“From ages 28 to 101, widows and widowers, veterans, homeless and those with no family at all — we have served them all,” Sobel said.

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