Why Sterntalerhof?

Replying to Why Sterntalerhof Peter Kai answers:

"Time and again I experienced it as a cleric for 20 years in hospitals like St. Anna and AKH. The serious illness of a child will shake up the entire family. The child patient in the hospital for weeks or months, father and mother at the verge of a breakdown, nobody around to take care of the healthy brothers and sisters. It´s a question of time until the family will fall apart."

Peter Kai wanted to and simply had to do something. This is how Sterntalerhof began in 1998, for me a necessity born of sheer need. A children´s hospice in the original sense of that term, namely a place where the whole family can find peace and tank up on strength to find their way back into everyday life!

It was providence that led to his encounter with Regina Heimhilcher, the cofounder, in the mid-nineties:

Regina was a vaulting specialist, and Isabella, a girl in her traing group, who had developed a brain tumor, met Peter Kai in the hospital where she ended up. Before she died she still visited Regina with him. This is how Peter Kai and Regina Heimhilcher met, and it was here that they first realized the multi-dimensional and unbelievably effective impact these animals have.

Together they developed the "Concept STERNTALERHOF" with these pillars:

  • Holistic guidance of families with children who are seriously, chronically, or terminally ill
  • in a dignified and natural atmosphere
  • by an inter-disciplinary team emphasizing "horse therapy".

Peter Kai and Regina Heimhilcher bought a small farm in the southern Burgenland with their own savings and began work in 1998 as an independent nonprofit charity association.

Peter Kai looking back:

"We began with great enthusiasm but were also a bit naive. If I had known at the outset what we were getting into, I may well have quit. But my Tyrolean stubbornness and the faith that God probably knows what he is doing kept me going."

Harald Jankovits, M.A. began as a volunteer but grew into the project step by step.

Replying to Why Sterntalerhof? Harald Jankovits, M.A. answers:

"Having met Peter Kai and Regina Heimhilcher in 2003, I was profoundly impressed by the commitment these two brought to their mission. At the same time I also witnessed their exhaustion and economic problems. I neither wanted, nor was able, to simply watch how the future of such an important social project was hanging in the balance. I therefore accepted the challenge, by many deemed a „mission impossible“, to turn this private initiative into a sustainable organization. The actual challenge lay in establishing professional structures in all areas while simultaneously maintaining our personal and cordial atmosphere."

Meanwhile there is a new site with excellent infrastructure in Loiperdorf-Kitzladen that boasts optimal organizational conditions and a professional team of wonderful people giving their best day by day and never losing sight of the basic idea - to build a happy Today for children and their families whose Tomorrow is written in the stars!

Or in the words of cofounder Regina Heimhilcher:

"Walking through the site Friday evening, I noticed that you have all succeeded in something beautiful. There was so much human warmth.. such an atmosphere of feeling well... What Peter and I have always formulated as the basis of therapeutic work and as a place for encounters with one´s self... our loved ones...our environment... a place where one can unwind and simply be... My highest RESPECT goes to each and every in of our team, to all who bring so much empathy to the families every day."

After more than a decade of development, the founder of Sterntalerhof, now retired, has this to say:

"With this inter-disciplinary team working on the highest level of expertise and human relations and the professional organizational structures my vision has become reality!"

The pillars of our concept are still valid, although we are continuously trying to adjust our efforts to family needs and to develop them accordingly. There are many little screws we are steadily turning, but also a few big ones like mobile support and ambulant guidance. They optimally supplement the core task of stationary care and guarantee that our own claim is actually attained - to offer holistic and family-oriented guidance through life, terminal illness, and mourning.

Gustav Herincs, M.D., palliative care and hospice physician and board member, to the question:
"You are not a rehabilitation center nor a clinic nor a care center – what can you offer these families?"

"We have a professional inter-disciplinary team - therapy, pedagogy, psychology, and ministry - combined with therapeutic horseback riding and supplemented by medical and nursing knowhow. At the same time we offer our guests 'only' that which is their due anyway, namely a life in dignity! At Sterntalerhof they find time and space for their pressing subjects like anxiety, frustration, anger, exhaustion, helplessness, death, last farewells, spending time together in dignity, etc."

Lisa Wiesinger, M,A., expert coordinator, adds:

"In the final analysis, we cannot comprehend how a family in this situation really feels. It would be nothing but raw cynicism to pressure these people into any therapy. Taking a couple of steps back in humility, we try to offer them - to each according to his/her need - an intimate and sheltered framework within which they may draw on their own resources again. This is why no week is ever like any other one. We are simply working in a borderline area that forces us to adjust to a family´s needs every day."

By now we have succeeded in operating throughout the entire year: taking care of more than a hundred children with their families per year on a stationary basis, in helping these families cope with their everyday home life via our mobile supply system and its over 100 network partners, in setting up 2 to 3 summer weeks for siblings, in providing ambulant guidance for about 20 children per week, and in supporting a group of 5 orphaned families several times a year on the basis of a specially developed plan.

Translated into therapeutic-pedagogical units, this amounts to thousands of units per year, which have to be prepared, implemented, documented, and evaluated by our staff. And all of that with a core team of therapists and pedagogues working full time and a medical nursing pool we can call on if necessary. Sterntalerhof has thus proven for many years that by taking advantage of all sorts of synergy effects efficient and effective work is indeed possible - and that exclusively with privately obtained resources.

They are very special people who have become close companions, and as such harbingers of happiness, over the years, without whom our team members simply could not operate. Each one of them contributes his/her own personal share of time, knowhow, material, or money, the end result amounting to much more than the sum of its parts. The final achievement is "Network Sterntalerhof", the base carrying the team week by week to their work of guiding family after family back to everyday life.

Harald Jankovits, M.A., manager sees it this way:

"Of course, being on active duty over more than 80 hours a week drains your energy. To see, however, to what degree all these voluntary supporters, sponsors, donors, partners, and benefactors are committed to our cause is a truly inexhaustible source of strength for us all!"

It also feels good to receive public recognition of some kind or other:

  • Tax deductibility 2009
  • Austrian Health Prize 2010
  • Peter Kai elected "Austrian of the Year" for his humanitarian commitment 2011
  • Austrian donation seal of quality 2012

Needless to add, we enjoy being mentioned and commended in the media, as did Kurier among others last year.

Two individuals deserve special mentioning, not merely because they have invested much time and knowhow into our efforts, but also because as members of the board they supervise developments at Sterntalerhof with circumspection, thus shouldering a substantial share of responsibility:

Johann Konvicka, M.Sc., has been with Sterntalerhof for many years; as an architect he signs responsible for planning and building our new site, and as a human being he has always lent a sympathetic ear to our little woes.

Klaus Kojnek, M.B.A., is our guarantee that as a tax adviser he will deal successfully with matters pertaining to bookkeeping, payroll accounting, and the annual statement of accounts. Beyond these, he has become our indispensable companion dealing with tax issues, whether legal or technical.

As our human qualities must never be buried under our professional ones, here is a quote by our coordinator Lisa Wiesinger, M.A.:

"To succeed in taking away some of the burden from the families affected so heavily -
this is the most beautiful thing for me personally."