Volunteers Extraordinaire

She was the daughter of a country doctor. As she accompanied him on Saturday calls, she saw how people dying were cared for at home. For her, it always made sense that people could stay at home until the very end, receiving the care they need. She saw, too, that sometimes the need for care was greater than home could provide.

He had an initial year of college and then went on to become a nuclear submarine reactor operator with the Navy. Upon discharge, he pursued his dream of becoming a physician. For him, the oath to do no harm and help the sick guided his 40-year practice as a distinguished internal medicine physician in Santa Barbara.

Neither Jane Habermann nor Dr. Roger Dunham could foresee that one day they would join together, along with hundreds of community members, and live up to Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


From the beginning, I have always understood that we take care of one another.

My father was a country doctor in North Dakota. Growing up, I watched him care for our rural community. I would hear
about babies born, neighbors ill, and friends declining. During his Saturday house calls, I would go with him. Families were so grateful to see him when he walked in and trusted him to care for them. I was deeply moved by these experiences.

Later in life, I had a strong connection with VNA Health as I witnessed the same in-home care that I had seen as a child. Home care at every stage of life has always made sense to me. I remember the first little Serenity House — my mom cut the ribbon. There were just a handful of us there. We named a room in my father’s memory. It meant a lot to us. I still have the plaque that hung on the door — it reads: “A country doctor for 40 years.”

I recall various Board meetings when we discussed the growing community need for a larger facility. When the Board voted, I knew right away that I had to commit to the project and help raise the funds. With Dr. Dunham as co-chair, Pat Snyder as Foundation Executive Director, Board Chairs Ed Brady and later Steve Lew, along with each one of the generous board members and our incredibly philanthropic community — together we built the new Serenity House. I feel such immense gratitude that our community came together in a big way, and continues year after year to provide the necessary support to ensure Serenity House stands as a beacon of hope for everyone.

It’s not often that a volunteer gets to stand back and see such a beautiful and serene place, hear the birds chirping, know there are patients and families in the rooms, and just be so grateful that Serenity House is there for all of us.


After boot camp, I spent some reflective time by myself while on a month’s leave from the Navy. I stayed at a motel near the surfing waters north of San Diego. Even now, I can recall every detail of that room as I wondered, “What am I going to do with my life?” I knew the Navy wasn’t the career path for me. In that moment, I realized I didn’t want to waste my life – that I wanted something meaningful to do. So I said right then, “I’m going to be a doctor.”

As a physician, my commitment was to do no harm and take care of the sick (a condensed version of the Hippocratic Oath). Healthcare is complicated and often has competing priorities. Over and over, it was important for me to return to the basics: Take care of the patient. Address their essential needs, bring some comfort, allow them to exist in the most dignified manner possible.

I was at the Board meeting when the motion was made to build the new Serenity House. I recall Jane sitting across the table from me. I looked at her and we knew what to do. There were many at that table with us – and countless others in the community — who also knew what needed to be done.

Together, our community built Serenity House, and returned to the basics: Take care of each other.

Serenity House addresses the fundamental needs for humanitarian care of someone in their weakest of all moments. To be treated with dignity, to be comforted, and to live our final days in loving care — isn’t this what we all want?

For more information, please contact our VNA Health Foundation at 805-690-6290 or by email at foundation@vna.health.

Serenity House is a treasure…a gift made possible by the community, for the community.

It’s been 10 years since Serenity House welcomed its first patients in the beautiful home nestled on a hillside overlooking Santa Barbara. Thousands of Santa Barbara families have experienced loving and compassionate care over this past decade.

VNA Health remains committed to offering this treasured hospice home to our community. Please join us today and make a gift in gratitude for this past decade of care and to ensure Serenity House stands to serve our friends, neighbors, and families for years to come.

Thank you for making the beautiful story of Serenity House possible.