Worlein Funeral Home wins national award

Published 10:38 am Thursday, November 13, 2014

Paul Worlein holds the Best of the Best award that Worlein Funeral Home received. To his right is the Pursuit of Excellence Award Worlein has one seven years in a row. Worlein was one of four funeral homes in the United States to receive the award this year. Jenae Hackensmith/ jenae.hackensmith@ austindailyherald.com

Paul Worlein holds the Best of the Best award that Worlein Funeral Home received. To his right is the Pursuit of Excellence Award Worlein has won seven years in a row. Worlein was one of four funeral homes in the United States to receive the award this year. Jenae Hackensmith/jenae.hackensmith@austindailyherald.com

Honor given to just four funeral homes in the US

When staff at Worlein Funeral Home and KSMQ Public Television partnered to create a video about coping with grief, they didn’t expect to win two awards because of it.

But KSMQ won a national Telly Award for “Embracing Grief,” and Worlein Funeral Home is now one of four funeral homes in the country to receive the Best of the Best award for 2014.

“That was a big part of why we were chosen for the Best of the Best, is that we put together something, a resource that really has no time frame to it; it’s endless,” said Mary Kittelson, Worlein Funeral Home Community Services Director. “It’ll be good forever, and it’s something that is available to everybody.”

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Worlein Funeral Home, which has sites in Austin and Blooming Prairie, received its seventh consecutive Pursuit of Excellence award, but this year the funeral home also won the Best of the Best award, which focuses on funeral homes that offer different programs and resources to grieving families.

The award can be given to 10 funeral homes each year, but this year it was only given to four.

“It’s always nice to get an award, but we didn’t go out with the intention of trying to get an award,” said Paul Worlein, owner of Worlein Funeral Homes.

The video, “Embracing Grief,” focused on six different families who shared their stories about losing a loved one and how they coped with the loss. The speakers talk about the “new normal” families experience after the death of a loved one.

“I had been looking at doing a project like this for years and this just kind of came together, the timing was right, and we had really excellent people there at KSMQ,” Worlein said. “It was very satisfying.”

David Hagen, a newly-elected Austin City Council member who works in underwriting and development at KSMQ, helped come up with the idea with Worlein staff.

“That’s a very rewarding experience, to know that it’s not only recognized but also that it will help people,” he said.

After a meeting over coffee, Worlein and Hagen made a plan to create the video, with the hope that it would help people going through the grieving process. It took about six meetings to get it set up, and after Kittelson received the OK from all six families/participants in the video, they started shooting. KSMQ’s Production Engineer Charles Czech and interviewer Eric Olson, along with Jeff Gould, helped in the production of the film.

Kittelson said there were no hesitations from any of the participants.

“People who find ways to honor their deceased loved ones seem to do well in the grieving process,” she said. “They seem to move forward in the grieving process, and this is a way they have found to honor [their loved ones].”

Worlein added, “It’s beneficial for them as well as other people that they’re telling their story, and it’s going to be around for a long time.”

The application process for both awards was extensive, but it was worth it.

“We were thrilled that the video was recognized because we do hope it’s going to help a lot of people,” Kittelson said.

The video has been distributed at multiple venues, such as churches, schools and libraries. It is available on YouTube and the Worlein website. A big part of the project was keeping the video accessible to everyone. Multiple perspectives are covered, including loss of a parent, child and spouse.

“[The goal] is to help people through this period to actually give them some relief, because it’s such a tough time in a person’s life to go through grief,” Hagen said.

Worlein added, “Something that happens to everybody is, you think, ‘I’m the only one,’ and you realize that there’s a lot of other people out there that have had things happen to them as well.”

Kittelson stressed that the funeral home’s service does not end when the funeral is over. Along with the video, there is also a continuing care program available to people, and the funeral home tries to complete at least one community project each year. In the past, the funeral home helped educate children and parents on the effects of bullying and how it can lead to tragedy.

One year, it held a seminar at its funeral home with many outside speakers educating the public about grief. Another year, it worked with public health and pharmacies on a hand sanitizer campaign, and there are already ideas for 2015.

“To us, this is a continual work of progress,” Kittelson said. “We’re continually reaching out and trying to find out what we could be doing better, what we could do different, what we could add to our service to provide the people that we work with the best possible experience.”

The other funeral homes that received the Best of the Best award were in Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. Funeral homes from around the world — as far as Mexico, Canada and South America — also apply for the award.