By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) AnTuan Guerry
The Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher House Foundation hosted a ceremony Sept. 13 to recognize the program's volunteers and donors, and the first Fisher House's 15th birthday.
Fisher Houses, the first of which was built at Bethesda, enable family members to be close to loved ones during stressful times including hospitalization for an illness, disease or injury.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young and his wife Beverly, and National Naval Medical Center Commander Rear Adm. Adam Robinson Jr. were among the attendees.
Bethesda Fisher House Manager Albert Harrison said the Fisher House program is about military families supporting each other. He reminded guests of the important role Fisher Houses have played in the military over the years.
"The Fisher Houses are large houses, providing a home away from home to families of the sick and injured. Fisher House [one] has been doing just this for 15 years," Harrison said. "We ask that everyone remember that this is a celebration of our families and the services we provide here for them."
Robinson said the Fisher House represents a hallmark of military service.
"Military service is about family ... it's about making sure that we are connected to our roots, and our roots are our family," Robinson said. "The Fisher House is a way to make sure that all of us know � at any given time, no matter where we are [and] no matter who we are � we have a family and we have a home."
Fisher House Foundation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Fisher, nephew of the late Fisher House co-founders Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, said the Fisher House program is going full speed. He said three new houses will be completed this year and five more are scheduled to be finished next year. Once the construction projects are complete, the Fisher House program will have 50 houses worldwide, he said.
Fisher called Fisher House volunteers "Angels," saying they are the "blood of the program" and, without them, the program would not be what it is today.
Although the program is going strong and has benefited many families, Fisher said he hopes one day the program will no longer be needed.
"That's a good thing ... I know Zach is smiling down on us today," Fisher said. "Who would have ever thought we"d be here today celebrating on this auspicious occasion. I hope that [my wife] and I have made you proud. I speak on behalf of Zach and Elizabeth ... when I say, �Happy Birthday" to the program."
Mullen thanked ceremony guests for their support, including representatives of those who could not attend.
"To say it's a pleasure and honor to be here for this birthday would be a vast understatement," Mullen said during his remarks at the ceremony. "In particular, thanks to chairman and Mrs. Young whose heart literally lives in [Bethesda] almost 24 hours a day ... who have done so much for the Fisher foundation, [but] also for our young men and women in uniform. We are eternally grateful for that and we can"t say thank you enough.
"It's easy for me to point out the care that goes on here ... it is equally as good in all of the places [I"ve been], particularly during this very challenging time when we"ve had so many that are injured," Mullen continued. "I describe them as miracles every day. The miracles that occur here ... have been extraordinary. I feel fortunate to be with you in this time and grateful for all you do. I am especially appreciative of all who have made a difference in so many people's lives."
Young said it's always a tremendous inspiration to be at the National Naval Medical Center, "where miracles happen." Young talked about the skepticism he had during his initial encounters with Zach Fisher and Fisher House Foundation trustee Mike Stern, Fisher's partner, who helped lay the ground work for many of the houses.
"When I first met them ... I thought, nobody is this good," Young said. "The more I saw what they were doing and the more I visited with them ... [I realized] these guys are for real. They are genuine American patriots and very, very generous.
"The Fisher house program is so important to the families of our wounded heroes who have an opportunity to stay close to their loved ones," he added.
Retired Adm. Carlisle Trost and his wife Pauline helped unveil the Fisher House's newest Anchor Board. Harrison called the painting a constant, visual reminder commemorating acts of kindness and generous support to the Fisher House Program.
"If there are such things as co-creators to the Fisher House Program, no one could dispute that these two people are exactly that," Harrison said of the Trosts. "[The Anchor Board] serves to recognize those people who 'anchor Mrs. Trost's dream in the realm of reality' through their support of our program."
Trost was Chief of Naval Operations when the first Fisher House opened at Bethesda.
Bethesda Fisher House staff members also used the opportunity to recognize their contributors and volunteers.
Gold Stars are awarded for donations of $2,000 to $5,000 or for distinguished acts of service. Silver Stars are awarded for donations greater than $5,000. Five recipients received Silver Stars for their contributions, including the family of Marine Sgt. Alessandro Carbonaro. Pauline Trost presented 11 Gold Star awards, including three posthumously. The stars are mounted on full wall murals hung in each Bethesda Fisher House.
Robinson presented the Fisher House with "Outstanding Team" and "Outstanding Individual" Awards, which are given for financial support or gifts donated to the Fisher House.
For related news, visit the National Naval Medical Center Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/nnmc/.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski