Heather Kochen

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Youth Coordinator
Adventist St. Thomas Hospice
Burr Ridge, Ill.
(630) 856-6990

Age: 29

Heather Kochen

Salary: Around $32,000

My Organization: The Adventist St. Thomas Hospice, a department of Hinsdale Hospital associated with the Adventist Midwest Health System, serves Chicago-area patients with a limited life expectancy. It began in 1980 as a volunteer program and is now a full-service, Medicare-certified hospice.

My Job: Kochen’s youth coordinator position entails overseeing the hospice’s teen volunteer program, teen bereavement program and children’s bereavement summer camp. She is responsible for recruiting, training and overseeing all teen volunteers, who participate in at least three group events per month with the patients.

“Most of [the volunteer events] we host at local healthcare facilities and [they] range anywhere from ice cream socials, to craft events, bingo games, luaus and even Wii golf,” Kochen said.

The teen bereavement component of her job involves organizing individualized counseling for teens experiencing the death of a loved one, including a teen support group called Teens for Teens, which holds two six-week sessions a year.

As director of Tommy’s Kids Summer Camp, Kochen hosts a five-day camp for kids ages 5 through 12 who are dealing with a significant loss in their lives because of a death.

How I Got Here: Kochen received an undergraduate degree in psychology, specializing in child-related studies, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also has a graduate degree in counseling from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. She found out about her current position while completing her counseling internship with Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.

Best Part of My Job: “Getting to be a bright spot in people’s days. When I accompany the teen volunteers to their events, residents are always happy to see us as we are toting fun craft projects, yummy ice cream or exciting bingo prizes. They are always so appreciative of our presence,” Kochen said.

Worst Part of My Job: “The limitations of helping people,” Kochen said. “Occasionally we will be working with a bereaved family with multiple losses, or the teens will be visiting with a patient with a lot of unmet needs, and we always do our best to assist them with their difficulties, but sometimes you are still left feeling like you wish you could do more to make their situation better.”

Most Memorable Moment: “In general, my most memorable moments are when I get to witness an individual making healthy progress on their journey through grief,” Kochen said. “I get to witness this every year at our camp. The difference in campers from Monday to Wednesday is astounding. As they become more comfortable with one another and as they are given permission to grieve their losses in healthy ways, you can see the difference it makes in their lives. It is wonderful to witness a child incorporating their loss into their life in a healthy way.”

What Could Make My Job Better: “More volunteers! At camp we do a one-to-one ratio of campers to counselors, and so I am always looking for individuals to volunteer their time as counselors,” Kochen said. “I am also always looking to add to my teen volunteer roster. These days, it seems teens get busier and busier with school, sports and work commitments. Sometimes it is hard to find teens with the time to attend our events.”