Samantha Oliver is described as "an agent for change." Seventeen years ago, while helping a dying friend, she recognized the need for a local hospice service and began working with others to create what is now Hospice of Northeastern Illinois (HNI). It is one of the largest organizations in Illinois, dedicated to easing the passage from life to death for the terminally ill and their families through comprehensive quality care, pain and symptom management, bereavement resources and community education.
At HNI, Oliver has served in nearly every capacity, from volunteer to President of the board. Programs focus on meeting unique, individual needs and take hundreds of volunteers to implement. One such specific issue is the Vigil Program for elderly nursing home patients who don't have any family, where volunteers sit at their bedside so they don't have to die alone.
As the word about hospice care grew, more families sought help, but not all could afford to pay. In response, Oliver was instrumental in starting the Hospice Foundation of Northeastern Illinois, the fundraising arm of HNI, whose motto is, "we never turn anyone away because of their financial circumstances." As the 1998 co-chair of the Annual Giving Drive, Oliver and her committee members easily exceeded their goal of $180,000 in donations.
For the past two summers, Oliver has been a counselor at Camp Courage. Sponsored by the Hospice of Northeastern Illinois, the four-day bereavement camp caters to children coping with the deaths of parents, siblings or other loved ones. Having lost her own parents at a relatively young age, this 65-year-old camp counselor brought her usual empathy, humor and heart to the task. Because of her valuable service, Oliver has received the Hospice of Northeastern Illinois' annual Caring Award.
As with most people driven to make the world a better place, Oliver gives herself to a number of favorite causes. Since 1984, she has been Staff Director of Citizens for Conservation, which "saves living space for living things." She is the past Chairman of the American Heart Association of Metropolitan Chicago, where she twice received the Heart of the Year Award. She is also the President-elect of Good Shepherd Hospital's Auxiliary. Previously, she served on the hospital's Governing Council and was given the Shepherd's Award for outstanding contributions to the hospital. In addition, the Barrington Development Council presented Oliver with its Community Service Award.
Oliver participates in short term volunteer mission trips–either medical or construction–to depressed areas of the U.S. and in developing countries. This year she went to West Virginia with high school students to repair homes in Appalachia.
"We need heroes to emulate, and Oliver is truly a hero," states Jeanne Hanson, President, Volunteer Center of Greater Barrington, "her slight stature, quiet way and occasional stammer give us hope that we too, can take on a life-changing, community building, world betterment role."