By Tech. Sgt. Chyenne A. Adams
Although the 53 Fisher House homes around the world serve more than 11,000 families annually, many who serve don't know about the benefits the organization can bring to military members and their families during a time of need.
The Fisher House program is a unique private-public partnership that supports America's military through a program that enables family members to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease or injury.
"Most people just don't know about us until they need us," said Janet L. Grampp, the Andrews Air Force Base Fisher House manager.
Because service members and their families are stationed worldwide and often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and ensure they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment.
"That is our main goal -- from the moment these families walk in the door, we want them to get an immediate sense of relief," Mrs. Grampp said. "We work very hard to maintain a 'home' here. This is not a hotel setting. When folks walk in, they see a wholesome, clean, family environment situated like a large home. We are here to provide that small comfort, and financial relief, to families already going through so much."
By law, there is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
According to Mrs. Grampp, the majority of funding comes from Combined Federal Campaign donations, with fundraisers and private donations filling in the gap. Volunteers also clean rooms, cook meals for the families in the home's kitchen, and more.
"There are times when this is hard because you form an attachment with these individuals and you want to do all you can for them," she said. "I've worked in this home for 17 years and I've had some recurring guests coming back for more than a decade who have to continue to get specialized treatment. You definitely get close."
Many previous guests also return to the homes to "pay it forward," Mrs. Grampp said.
Many return to cook a meal for current guests or bring donations that helped them during their stays. It's their way of giving back.
"Every day is a blessing here," she said. "I get paid in hugs and 'thank you's and get to work at the best job on base. Not everyone gets the job satisfaction that I do, knowing I make a difference in somebody's life every single day. I think that's why so many are kind enough to donate; it gives them that feeling, knowing they made a difference where it matters."
Currently residing at the Andrews AFB home are two families with young children undergoing medical care in the National Capital Region.
Senior Airman Grant Arndt; his wife Lindsey; 3-year-old son, Zavian; 1-year-old son, Emeric; and newborn son, Draius, have been residing at Fisher Homes in the local area since August. They were stationed in Germany when Zavian was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and had to be med-evaced to Andrews AFB for specialized treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
ALL is a cancer caused by malignant, immature white blood cells that continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow. ALL causes damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow, and by spreading to other organs.
Mrs. Arndt delivered her youngest child, Draius, here on Thanksgiving Day, while Zavian was still going through treatment.
"I don't know how we would have made it," Mrs. Arndt said. "We were so very stressed with everything going on. Coming back here to a real home environment with people who support you and what you're going through is so very important."
Zavian's father said his son's prognosis is good, but he's halfway through chemotherapy treatments that put him back in the hospital for a week at a time, every few weeks.
The Arndt family has been reassigned to Andrews AFB through the Exceptional Family Member Program and says the Air Force has been supportive at every turn. They admit they didn't know much about the Fisher House until the nurses in Germany set everything up for them.
"We do this for the patients and their families," Mrs. Grampp said. "This is your home while you're here, and we do what we do to make it special, because you are important to us."
Anyone interested in volunteering or donating to the Andrews AFB Fisher House can contact the organization through its web site. The home is also the collection point for the Maryland Room, a separate facility for Wounded Warriors here. Needs at both facilities are different, so the manager keeps a weekly list of what is currently needed for each.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski