Longtime Summit County leader builds nonprofit to increase access to end-of-life respite care
Marylouise “Duck” White-Petteruti, former head of Domus Pacis Family Respite, has launched a new nonprofit aimed at expanding respite retreats across the U.S.
Before she called Summit County home in the early 2000s, Marylouise “Duck” White-Petteruti visited the area in July 1997 while her mother was dealing with terminal cancer.
She came with her mother and two sisters. What her mother was “really asking for,” White-Petteruti said, “was for a last girls’ trip — time to spend with her three daughters and to really be together.”
The trip was a source of healing and relief from the stress and trauma of battling a terminal illness, White-Petteruti said. In memory of her mother, who died in November 1997, White-Petteruti and her husband, Vince, have now helped more than 1,700 families find that same relief through a Summit County nonprofit.
Domus Pacis Family Respite connects county homeowners with families of loved ones dealing with end-of-life care. For one week, families are given a relaxing stay in the mountains with free lodging, food and activities. White-Petteruti said she and her husband hosted the first families in 2008 along with friends who owned several townhomes.
But after stepping down as the organization’s executive director in 2020, White-Petteruti said she wanted to pour her passion into expanding such practices elsewhere in the county. It’s why in 2021, she launched a new nonprofit, the Peace Alights Initiatives, of which she is a board member.
“My ultimate goal, as is the board’s lifetime goal, is actually to create more family respite nonprofits all over the United States,” she said. “The impact on the families is indescribable … what we would hear so often is people would feel joy for the first time since a diagnosis.”
On Sept. 2, the nonprofit will host its inaugural benefit concert after nearly two years of coalescing around a framework for its mission. It will feature a performance by John Denver tribute band John Adams as well as feature donated photos by the late John Fielder, Colorado’s iconic landscape photographer who died Friday, Aug. 11.
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The concert will serve as both a fundraiser for the nonprofit and an opportunity to unveil itself to the community, said White-Petteruti’s husband, Vince, who is an affiliate of the new organization.
“The thought is that the concert would provide a way to get the message out for the very first time,” he said, adding that Domus Pacis had held its own John Denver-inspired benefit concerts before.
One of those marked the origin of White-Petteruti’s new venture. During a concert hosted by Domus Pacis in 2019, White-Petteruti said she met three women visiting the county who spoke to her about the respites.
Not long after, the women all reached out to White-Petteruti with an interest in learning how they could be involved in the effort.
“It was something that was just surfacing in them, and they saw that they wanted to do it in their community,” she said.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when “people became introspective about what it means to be sequestered in your home” and wrestled with uncertainty of the future, White-Petteruti said.
She believes this helped propel interest in respite care. The three women she’d met at the concert helped form what would become the Peace Alights Initiatives and created an all-women-led board.
By the end of this year, White-Petteruti has set a goal of establishing respite care in four or five “respite deserts,” areas where no such opportunities exist. To help do this, the nonprofit will host what she hopes will become an annual gathering of like minded nonprofits from across the country that can find and coordinate with potential providers, much as Domus Pacis does in Summit County.
White-Petteruti said she hopes it will bring peace and enjoyment to families of those struggling through the end of life.
“You need to take a break from that, you need to have some respite from it,” she said. “That’s a universal need, but it’s really paramount during a life-altering illness or the loss of a loved one.”
It also helps to provide a community more purpose, she said.
“That is a gift — a gift to the families, a gift to the communities,” White-Petteruti said. “When those two things mesh together, that’s the best of humanity.”
The Sept. 2 benefit concert will be held at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Doors open at 7 p.m. with music beginning at 7:30 p.m. General admission tickets are $35 for general admission and $55 for VIP.
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