Think of it as a sort of Ronald McDonald House for military veterans.
It’s called a Fisher House, and an effort has begun to raise $6 million to build one on the campus of the Long Beach VA Hospital. Chaired by Steve Kuykendall, assisted by Terry Geiling (CEO of the Gold Star Manor in Long Beach), the newly formed committee hosted a meeting last week to kick off what they hope will be an 18-month push to raise the money needed.
Plans call for a home of more than 10,000 square feet with 21 units, or bedrooms, as well as common space sufficient to accommodate that many families of veterans receiving medical care. The project is under the auspices of the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., which already has built 22 Fisher Houses on bases and hospital campuses in the United States, and more than 50 worldwide.
“We’ve pretty much covered the bases,” said Cindy Campbell, vice president for community relations for the Fisher House Foundation. “We work through the Department of Defense and the Veterans Affairs Administration. The big push now is on the VA hospital sites.”
The Long Beach VA Hospital, next to the California State University, Long Beach, campus in east Long Beach, sits on 100 acres and serves a large part of Southern California. Kuykendall said that it has served more than 52,000 veterans in the last year.
“Today, less than 7% of the population (in the United States) is either on active duty or is a veteran,” Kuykendall said. “Pretty much all of them did this, served our country, willingly. We owe these people a huge debt.”
While Fisher Houses function on the same basic philosophy as Ronald McDonald Houses — providing food and housing for families to support patients in hospitals — the operation is considerably different. Fisher Houses are located on military property, and the buildings are constructed to federal specifications.
The military, in this case the Veterans Administration, oversees the construction, so there are not naming opportunities like those used to raise money for Ronald McDonald Houses. Kuykendall said that the local group would turn the money over to the foundation, and not be involved in the actual construction.
Once the house it built, the VA takes care of operational expenses, Geiling added.
“The fundraising is pretty much a one-shot deal,” Geiling said. “We may stay organized in some fashion as kind of a support group for special things, but it’s pretty much a turn-key effort.”
Kuykendall said the committee expects to spend 18 months to two years fundraising before ground is broken for the Long Beach home. Construction would take another nine months, meaning the facility could open in late 2015 or early 2016.
Last week’s meeting was the first public effort by the group, and a website for the Long Beach Fisher House still is under construction. To find out how to donate, call 426-7651 or 436-2000.