The Gift of Serenity Keeps On Giving


IN 2012, Barry Berkus was facing end of life and his wish was to die at home, but managing his care became too challenging for his family. Just the week before, his son’s father-in-law, Jack Engel, passed away at Serenity House, and being there relieved the stress and pressure for Jack’s family.


As my father’s health was continuing to fail, my brother and sister visited Serenity House. We were all in agreement; our father spent his last days in your care. The same as Jack at Serenity House, our father passed in a tranquil and safe environment. The compassionate care provided by the team at Serenity
House was incredible.

We were able to say goodbye without the extra stresses of caregiving. During the time I spent at Serenity House, I witnessed the various comforting options offered to patients and the special care given. Serenity House is a treasure, a true community asset, to Santa Barbara. – STEVE BERKUS

We made a visit to Serenity House, experienced the compassionate staff and beautiful energy on site, and made the decision to move [Dad] there. It was a decision we will never regret. Our family remains consistent supporters of VNA Health and Serenity House. We hope our testimonies help to instill confidence, comfort, and trust in the exemplary caregivers at Serenity House in the ultimate transition from life to death. – JEFF BERKUS

SERENITY HOUSE: The Centerpiece of a Peaceful Passing


Steve and Dana

Two families brought together through marriage found themselves contemplating common decisions about how to care for their fathers’ declining health. While both fathers wished to die at home, the families realized the home was not set up for hospice care, and the stress of handling their fathers’ intense pain and deteriorating health was too much to bear.

Thankfully, for the families of Barry Berkus and Jack Engle, they found Serenity House—hidden on a hillside among Santa Barbara’s majestic coastal oaks, a place where patients are cared for in a serene and homelike setting. Each private room allows patients to be surrounded by loved ones, and provides round-the-clock medical care from a team of specially trained doctors, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors, and hospice aides that support emotional, spiritual, and practical concerns.

Serenity House was not the only thing that Barry Berkus and Jack Engel had in common. They each led successful lives—Barry, a visionary architect, and Jack, an aerospace engineer. They both shared a deep love for family and for Santa Barbara. There were only a few months of difference in their ages, and only a few days separated them at death.

Visionary architect whose work was recognized
locally and throughout the world

Aerospace engineer, devoted husband and father

The Berkus family discovered Serenity House when son Steven Berkus’ father-in-law, Jack Engel, was checked into Serenity House where he spent his final days. Jack’s daughter, Dana Berkus, recalls the day they moved her father into Serenity House. “It is a peaceful place and we were able, as a family, to move from ‘worried attention to loving attention’ for our father. We are incredibly thankful for Serenity House.” “In visiting Jack, I learned how wonderful Serenity House was for the very challenging and emotional end of life stage,” said Steve Berkus. Steve told his family of his experience at Serenity House and took them there to see for themselves that it was a perfect setting for their father’s final days.

The Entry Fountain at Serenity House
The Lillian and Jon Lovelace Family Living Room at Serenity House

“Prior to Serenity House, while our father was still at home and his quality of life waning, our family was consumed with wanting to help out and provide any comfort possible,” said Steve Berkus. “When our father moved to Serenity House, the pressure we were managing had been relieved, and we were then able to concentrate all of our energy and love on him. Albeit difficult, the process became more peaceful.”

Perched on a hillside among Santa Barbara’s majestic coastal oaks, Serenity House patients are cared for in a serene, homelike setting.

The Berkus family is deeply rooted in design and architecture and the family was immediately impressed with the tranquil setting and beautiful surroundings. “As an architect, I could immediately see how the principles of design were integrated into the site,” said son Jeff Berkus. “My father’s room had a fountain outside, with gorgeous views of his beloved city. The room was also thoughtfully arranged so that our family was able to gather comfortably around his bed. I also appreciated the meditation room and family room, which were well thought out, and helped my family feel very comfortable.”

The layout of Serenity House is thoughtfully planned to provide the most comfort and ease for its patients and family. The reception desk is situated off the courtyard, so if guests come unannounced, they are treated with a warm welcome but thoughtfully informed if it is not a good time to visit. “Our Dad was a beloved member of this community, and he had many friends who wanted to pay their respects. However, it wasn’t the appropriate time, and it was wonderful to have the staff share our wishes and respect our privacy with kindness and gratitude,” said Jeff.

The picturesque surroundings are complimented by the highly skilled staff at Serenity House, who is expertly trained in preparing families for the final stages. “The nurses and staff were amazing, and kept my family very informed,” said Jeff. “They were never intrusive, and understood subtlety when appropriate, that was really appreciated. They said that in one of the final stages a patient may become highly alert and that it’s important to continue to communicate, as the patient is still aware. This did happen to our Dad, and we were thankful we were able to share that experience because we were prepared. This would not have happened if we were at home. My father had a peaceful passing, and Serenity House was a centerpiece for that.”