Family Ties – Chris Brittnacher Profile

For many people who come to know and love Angel On My Shoulder, it’s a family affair. The Brittnachers can be counted among them, having first gotten involved due to a daughter’s illness, then deepened their commitment over the years.

Chris and Don Brittnacher enjoy their life in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, where they raised their three children, Heidi, Anna, and Mollie. Mollie passed away from cancer in 2001.

“We attended Camp Hozhoni in 1997 and 1998,while she was going through treatment,” Chris said. “It was a safe and comfortable way for our family to ‘get away’ while going through chemotherapy.”

Their daughter Heidi has lived in Milwaukee since 2014. Anna and her husband Roman moved back to Kaukauna from Duluth in 2017, and they welcomed their son Rory just this past February.

When asked how they first got involved with Angel On My Shoulder, Chris said, “Heidi and Anna volunteered for camp in 2012. Heidi became more involved with the planning committee in 2013.”

It was through that commitment that Heidi found out they needed another photographer for camp. She asked her father, Don, to step in.

Heidi was given the responsibility of coordinating the family craft event, so Chris helped with that.

“After that first year, I said I would take care of it,” Chris said. “Hozhoni has been the perfect way to use our gifts to honor our sweet girl Mollie! Craft projects were always a good way to pass the time and keep Mollie engaged when she was going through treatment.”

Heidi said Don loves to use his photography skills to capture memories for the campers.

Some of Heidi and Anna’s favorite memories from camp were the “Hozhoni Boogie” and the relationships that all three girls developed with some of the counselors.

“Making those memories with campers is so meaningful to them,” said Chris.

Chris said that local friends who knew Mollie have done numerous things over the years to help with camp projects. “Mixing cement for a hundred stepping stones, building thirty-five birdhouses, growing plants for terrariums, donating beads and artistic talent to my demo, and making ceramic turtles for the terrarium project are a few things that come to mind.”

Chris likes to repurpose and use second-hand materials for the crafts since it’s better for the environment.

“I get help from fellow camp volunteers and other friends in sourcing supplies from thrift stores and rummage sales,” said Chris. “I think volunteering for camp is a wonderful creative outlet and allows our family to honor Mollie, while helping to make camp special and memorable for families.”

Caring with the Angels


Known as Nita, Anita Domnitz and her husband Ric (Merrick), a personal injury lawyer, have been married for forty-six years and have lived in Whitefish Bay for forty-one of them. Nita describes it as a Norman Rockwell neighborhood with its sidewalks, streetlights, parks, lakefront and shopping, all within walking distance.

“We love being close to downtown Milwaukee for theatre, concerts, art museums, fun and fine dining,” Nita said, “and Brewers games!”

They’ve just added a putting green to their backyard. “It’s great fun for our grandchildren and Ric! We have two sons, Ari and Noah, and four beautiful, healthy grandchildren.” 

Nita first got involved with Angel On My Shoulder when she did a workshop with the Rose family and employees of Discover Wisconsin. “Lolly and the family invited me in 1997 to be the first AOMS summer camp nurse and counselor in Three Lakes, WI. It was a fantastic experience to see the joy, fun, freedom and quality of the camp and AOMS.”

In subsequent years, Nita’s son Ari and his friends joined as camp counselors. “One summer, my son Noah was the counselor for the boys who stayed on Noah’s Ark!”

Nita later assisted in developing and counseling at the Teen Camp. 

The first Angel Care was formed in 1999. “Rick Rose knew an AIDS Caregiver facilitator named Sally Fischer who flew in from New York to facilitate,” Nita said. She and her parents were participants. Her beloved brother Jeff passed in 1989 at thirty-seven from metastatic osteosarcoma of the jaw after a seven year remission. “Angel Care with Sally was so healing for the three of us,” Nita said. “My Mother was able to openly express her pain and resentments to group members she’d just met! We all gained insight and tools to help us cope with our sadness.”

Nita told Lolly that with her counseling group therapy experience she could facilitate Angel Care, and soon she was running the group. That was in 2001, and for the next eighteen years Nita facilitated 33 groups that served 418 caregivers. “In 2009 we held a reunion for all the participants who had attended groups up to that point. It was a phenomenal turnout and the caregivers were treated like royalty.”

“My ideas for Angel Care were to encourage creative expression, nonjudgmental acceptance and witnessing, bonding, empathy, respect, comraderie, trust, coping strategies, and wholistic education,” Nita said.

“The Angel Care program was a gift to all who attended and a gift to me. I learned so much from each group. The last few years we allowed some caregivers to repeat the experience if we had room in the groups. It was a privilege that I will cherish forever.” 

Nita also wrote articles for AOMS Magazine. “My early articles focused on the health of the body with regard to nutrition, hydration, sleep, cell development and repair.” Most of Nita’s articles were inspired by clients, personal challenges, healthy new age philosophies, and inspirational people in her life. 

Some of Nita’s fondest memories include experiencing happy, carefree children at camp,  dancing, singing, making tree pictures that became notecards, costume parties, swimming and boating, and teen group emotional sharing. 

“Angel Care gave its participants the experience of bonding between caregivers, sincere and respectful support for one another, and humor as a healing emotion,” Nita said.

Other great memories include the Golf outing award and fundraising dinner, where Ric talked about Nita’s dedication and sincere love of AOMS and Angel Care. “Ari and Noah surprised me at the dinner! They drove from Milwaukee to be with me for my recognition and tribute for Angel Care and drove back the same evening. The best surprise of my life!”

“Volunteering with AOMS is a rewarding endeavor,” Nita said. “Everything AOMS does is done with care, love, quality, and thought. AOMS is quality in every program and fundraiser. AOMS is the real deal!”  


Healing Angels Spring 2019

By Tracy Hengst

Cancer survivors joined together for our June Healing Angels Program Retreat, held at Wilderness Hotel-Wisc Dells!

As with all of our healing angels retreats, participants start out the weekend as strangers – but as the weekend wraps up, they’ve helped each other to get over mountains and across lakes.  We shared experiences, heard about resources, learned new techniques and most importantly, continued in the healing process.

A Life Changer

Support for Angel On My Shoulder comes from far and wide. Currently living in Sarasota, Florida, Austin DeGroot remains committed. The son of Bill and Sue DeGroot, Austin has three sisters, Breanna, Erica, and Amanda.

A recent college graduate with a degree in Business Marketing, Austin loves the Sarasota area “mostly because the weather is nice year round!” He’s also an avid fisherman and he loves saltwater fishing. He’s in the process of starting a business venture with a high school friend he’s known since they were both small boys.

When asked how he first got involved with Angel On My Shoulder, Austin said he was diagnosed with leukemia in January, 2005.

“It was a devastating blow to my family, as all of my siblings have struggled with heart disease for many years prior to my diagnosis,” Austin said. “After being diagnosed, it took away my ability to be a kid and have the normal experiences you should have in your childhood.”

Angel On My Shoulder contacted Austin’s family and made his dream of a childhood possible with camps and by putting the family in touch with people going through the same things.

“They gave me the ability to be a kid and have fun again, which is something I can never be thankful enough for.”

Austin started going to Camp Hozhoni as a camper and was initially reluctant. “I just wanted to go fishing with my father and be distant from other campers and other survivors.”

Austin said his perspective changed when he met counselors Michele Ritt and Brian Kluender. “They showed me that this wasn’t a camp to talk about your feelings. It was a camp that allowed kids who were going through the same thing as I was to go out and have an amazing time together.”

Austin started going to camp in 2006 and has never missed a camp since. “Events such as this changed my life,” he said, “so its only right that I started giving back as a counselor once I turned 18. I wanted to provide that same life changing experience to kids who were just like me.”


One year the camp found itself without a DJ for Hozhoni Boogie. Austin had been singing, with a passion for music, his entire life. He spent the night putting together a playlist for camp and decided to take on the DJ duties himself. “The response I got that night was amazing, and I enjoy dancing with the kids and adults alike! Ever since then it has been my pleasure to be the camp DJ.”

One friendship was especially important to Austin. “Bruce Krier was hands-down one of the single best men I have ever known,” he said. “He inspired me and showed me that no matter what the odds are, and no matter what hand you are dealt, you can overcome anything if you believe in yourself and try your hardest.”

The two met through an event at AOMS where Austin gave a speech and sang a few songs to try and inspire people. One of those people was the late Bruce Krier.

“It must have struck him hard because he approached me with tears in his eyes,” Austin said. “He didn’t say a word and hugged me. From that moment on we hit it off. We became great friends over the years and I am honored to have known him.”

When asked for some of his most vivid memories with AOMS and Camp Hozhoni, Austin said, “The years I have spent at camp Hozhoni and working with AOMS have been the best years of my life. That’s what makes this organization so special. They take kids just like I was and show them that there’s more to life than just chemo and pain. They gave me the will to keep fighting. AOMS has given me an entire new family that will always be there for me. I give them and organizations like them the sole credit for my survival/success. P.S. I love you Lolly Rose!”