Your support and participation can help to fortify, cultivate, and sustain the practice compassion in health care. To make a tax-deductible donation, please click here.
from the Latin root compati: ‘suffer with.’
[com—together or with; pati—to suffer or feel intensely] The art of being with those who are suffering.
It is this art that we are cultivating—the skillful, active use of compassion to transform human suffering. This is the practical alchemy of compassion as the universal solvent to solve, dissolve, and resolve the hard feelings, harsh thoughts, and bitter experiences of sickness and trauma.
The grief, anxiety, and despair that people so often experience when faced with a serious illness or injury—when facing their mortality—is not a medical problem, and it has no medical solution. There is no pill or medical treatment for this deep-seated loneliness and emotional distress. It is a human problem and the only solution is human contact, with someone who cares, listens, and connects at a deeply heartfelt level.
There is always a point in human experience when all plans, tools, and tactics fail. At this point, the only thing that makes sense is kindness and compassion. This pivotal moment is the place where Adventures in Caring is making a difference in the quality of life.
Watch the Story of Adventures in Caring (10:00)
Adventures in Caring is a nonprofit, 501(c)3, health and human services organization, based in Santa Barbara, California.
Our programs receive no government funding, they are supported entirely by private donations and private grants,
plus sales of our publications.
One hundred percent of all donations goes directly into supporting the programs that teach and deliver compassion.
Giving the medicine of compassion.
Adventures in Caring (AiC) offers a one-year service-learning exploration of the human element in health care, for undergraduate students who are pursuing careers in the health professions.
In-depth training, personal interactions with the sick and injured, regular reflection, and year-round coaching develop the advanced listening skills, emotional intelligence, and authentic compassion so vital to healing. Such competencies in the art of connecting with those in pain, reduce distress, relieve social isolation, and restore well-being—in hundreds of frail elderly patients in local hospitals and skilled nursing facilities.
Thirty years of pioneering work in the human side of health care by the AiC team has produced a reliable methodology for teaching the art and practice of compassion.
Making compassion visible, teachable, and practical.
The experience of compassion is the wow factor in health care—yet how to teach staff to deliver this experience remains a mystery to most health care providers. Adventures in Caring has solved this problem by making the nebulous topic of compassion a visible, definable, practical skill that everyone can improve upon. Unlike scripted statements which may create courtesy, AiC programs cultivate the authentic compassion that inspires healing partnerships.
We also address compassion fatigue, because bitter, burned out caregivers are not a source of comfort to their patients. Our Cultivating Compassion three-volume series teaches 1) the four fundamental principles of creating the experience of compassion, 2) how to create that experience under difficult circumstances, and 3) how to guard against burnout, build resilience, and sustain compassion over a long, healthy and satisfying career.
The Adventures in Caring team includes 130 volunteers, twelve board members, four staff, several key independent contractors, and dozens of individual and organizational supporters. With such a small team, Adventures in Caring is making an impact far out of proportion to its size–locally and globally.
Board of Directors
Serving the Adventures in Caring Foundation in FY 2015-2016
Top row ((L-R): Connie Bowman, David Chernof MD, Paula Bruice PhD, Sherry Morez RN, Sharon Landecker, Glen Holden.
Bottom row (L-R): Sarah Gore Maiani, Karen Fox, Linda Alderman MEd, Steve Hoyt RPh
Not pictured here: Jill Morris, Laurie Small
Glen Holden, Jr.,CFA, President — VALIC Financial Services, Financial Advisor
Paula Bruice, Ph.D, Vice President — UCSB Senior Lecturer, Chemistry
Sherry Morez, RN, Secretary — Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, Director of Pediatrics (ret.)
Connie Salazar, Treasurer — Union Bank, Montecito, Branch Manager
Linda Alderman, — MEd Santa Barbara Women’s Club, President
David Chernof, — M.D,UCLA Professor, Doctoring Program (ret.)
Karen Fox — Adventures in Caring, Founding Director
Steve Hoyt, RPh — San Ysidro Pharmacy, Owner & Pharmacist
Sharon Landecker — Congregation B’nai B’rith, Volunteer
Sarah Gore Maiani — Writer, medical researcher, sculptor
Jill Morris — Choice Works (Management Training), Founder & Director
Laurie Small — Vista del Monte Retirement Comm., Executive Director (ret.)
Medical Advisory Board
Anthony Allina, MD
David Chernof, MD
David Cumes, MD
Stephen Hosea, MD
Babji Mesipam, MD
Richard Steckel, MD
Planned Giving Advisory Council
Steve Barnes Barnes & Barnes Attorneys at Law
Robert Dibley Northwestern Mutual
Sean Mason Sean C. Mason Law Offices
Aaron Spechler Berti Spechler Sarmiento McKay & Co., LLP
Planned Giving Consultant
Simon Fox, Executive Director
Karen Fox, Founding Director
Shelley Rickard, Director of Volunteers
Paige Moore, Office Manager
One afternoon, in the fall of 1983, Karen Fox received a phone call from her doctor’s office. “Your tests are abnormal” she was told. Her mind and pulse began to race. Had the cancer returned? Devastated by the news Karen glanced down to regain some composure, and there on her desk, on the back of a medical magazine, was a photograph. A little girl held the hand of a physician, and in her other hand was a doll – Raggedy Ann.
At that moment Karen’s boss, Dr. Nelson, walked in. Karen was still in a daze from the bad news, but the photograph had stirred something deep, a memory of hope. And something else, an alchemical instinct – to turn the lead of adversity into the gold of helping others. “What do you think of this idea?” asked Karen. Dr. Nelson, a conservative physician in his seventies, leaned in to listen, unsuspecting. “What if I dressed up as Raggedy Ann, and visited the patients across the street at Cottage Hospital on my lunch hour?”
Karen had worked as a medical assistant and administrator for Dr. Nelson for 15 years. He knew her well. She was reserved and had never dressed up in a costume in her life, even for Halloween. Despite this, he managed to conceal his amazement and simply asked, “Well what is your intention?” “If I’m invited into a patient’s room,” Karen responded, “my hope is that I could lift his spirits, his heart might open, and he would know that someone cared. – “I think it’s a great idea,” said Dr. Nelson, “Why don’t you call Cottage Hospital administration right now and see when you can get started.”
Karen made the call, and so began her adventure. Cutting through red tape took almost six months, but eventually, on Valentine’s Day, 1984, with knees knocking inside her bloomers, Karen took her first steps as Raggedy Ann, across Bath Street and into the hospital. The very first patient she visited had throat cancer. He couldn’t speak. His two sisters, who invited Raggedy Ann to see him, explained that he hadn’t spoken for eight months. “But would you please come in and say hello. Maybe your bright smile will cheer him up.”
Karen agreed, took a deep breath, and stepped into a miracle. “Hi it’s Raggedy Ann,” she whispered, not wanting to wake him if he were sleeping. Would you like a visitor today?” Looking up to see if he heard correctly, he began to smile, and nodded his consent. Karen told him her story: that this was her first day volunteering as Raggedy Ann, she was nervous, and how she hoped that this visit with him would give her the courage to continue. Then, with a full heart, and at a loss for other words, she said to him “I love you.” His eyes gleamed, and a tear rolled down his cheek. Contact was made. As Karen walked out of the room into the hallway, she heard a faint, gravelly voice call out to her from inside the room; “I love you too Raggedy Ann!” Stopped in her tracks, humbled by the voice of a man without one, she knelt and wept.
Karen knew only too well that this was confirmation. She was on the right path. “Well, you’ve got me God” she prayed. Then, getting to her feet, still in awe of what she had just experienced, she continued on her rounds. Today, Karen’s mission continues.
- Adventures in Caring is a nonprofit, 501(c)3, health and human services organization, based in Santa Barbara, California.
- Our programs receive no government funding, they are supported entirely by private donations and private grants, plus sales of our publications.
- One hundred percent of all donations goes directly into supporting the programs that teach and deliver compassion.
- Information given to us such as names and email is not shared with any other organizations.
- User names are included with story-submissions, unless requested otherwise.
- By signing up for memberships, users agree to receive email notices of new blogs, articles and special announcements from Adventures in Caring.
We Change Lives by:
- Focusing on abilities, not just disabilities. Because… people are more than patients – they are unique individuals, with strengths, resources and abilities. They are not invalid just because they are ill.
- Taking an interest in lives, not just bodies. Because… life is more than the body living longer – it is the quality of our experiences and the meaning they hold.
- Welcoming participation from the sick and injured, rather than only doing things for them. Because… healing is more than medical treatment – it is a partnership, a journey, and a spiritual opportunity. Everyone has a role to play, and we all have something to learn from those at the edge of life.
- Listening and leaning closer to painful situations, rather than avoiding or fighting them. Because… compassion is more than a feeling – it is showing up and connecting with people in their darkest hour. It is the power of love at work, transforming suffering.
The human element is often missing in modern medicine, to the detriment of both patients and caregivers. This personal, subjective, meaningful side of health care is the essential balance to the impersonal, objective, measurable side of health care. Both are essential. But in today’s health care, the subjective side of being sick – the emotions, relationships, and meaning it has in our life – are increasingly eclipsed. As a result, patients can often feel that they are at the wrong end of a science experiment.
Technological, economic, regulatory, litigious, and demographic trends are tending to push compassion to the fringes of medicine, and limit it to a mere buzzword. Unless we give people the tools and encouragement they need to take a stand for a more humane way of delivering health care, it is likely to descend into an assembly-line approach that treats people like so many units of consumption.
However, by treating people with dignity and compassion, and becoming partners in the cause of healing, we can overcome the impersonal interactions that demean the human spirit and inhibit healing – and hospitals and health care centers can then truly become places of healing.
We Rebuild Well-Being
Adventures in Caring (AiC) volunteer interns interact with residents in ways that deliberately build well-being in all seven domains described in the research paper by Fox et al. (2005) called The Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being. As follows:
- Identity: Stories are heard in depth, and the residents’ lives are known well. The interactions focus on whatever is most important or interesting to the resident at the time. AiC volunteers fortify individuality by appreciating each resident’s strengths and what makes them unique.
- Connectedness: Common ground is established across generations, cultures, and interests. Experiences and stories are shared, sometimes in words, sometimes just in body language. Residents are befriended and become closely connected with enthusiastic young people in life-affirming conversations, for a year or more.
- Security: Trust is built. A safe space is created to speak of things that are close to the heart. Dignity is preserved. Respect is shown. Experiences are validated. Life history is honored.
- Autonomy: Choices are given often. Residents have permission to speak freely and confidentially about anything at all. They are never “shushed.” They choose whether or not to even have a conversation, and if they do, residents control the topic and length of conversation throughout.
- Meaning: Insights are gained. Memories cherished. Blessings counted. A resident’s contribution and purpose in life is acknowledged. Oral history and the wisdom of elders is passed on. Residents have the opportunity to share with young people what they have found to be most important in life.
- Growth: New perspectives are encountered across the generations. New depths plumbed. Forgiveness is found. Sorrow embraced. Discoveries are made. Horizons expand and experience is enriched even for the room bound.
- Joy: Moments of joy and genuine companionship are experienced. Number of smiles increase. Residents have something meaningful and joyful to look forward to—hope is renewed.