Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Salesforce Volunteers

Family House is very fortunate to have a regular rotation of volunteers from Salesforce.com - usually a monthly group of “new hires.”  Even though the volunteers are new to Family House each time, they always do a fantastic job, with everything from deep-cleans to re-organizing the garage to painting projects to arts and crafts with the kids!

Recently, we were the recipient of a Salesforce Volunteer Program Grant - this enabled us to purchase new shelves for our garage. A team from Salesforce spent the day assembling the new shelving, and re-organizing all the bins.

Thank you to Salesforce for always being such wonderful contributors to our community!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Staff Spotlight: Amy Lenz

Interview with Amy Lenz, Development Associate

How did you come to be at Family House?
When I was at San Francisco State, in the Fall semester of 2005, I took a Community Involvement Course, where you get credit for volunteering. SF State had a whole wall of brochures of different places in the city to volunteer and get involved… I had worked at other nonprofits that raised money for cancer research and support, and since I love kids, Family House was a really good fit, where those things are all combined.

I was at Family House weekly throughout that semester, and I then became a Weekend Manager in 2006.  I worked in the hospitality industry for several years before joining Family House full time as the Volunteer Coordinator in 2009. Also in 2009, I helped start the Family House Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC), and was the first Chairperson - our first fundraiser was at Tonic in the Russian Hill neighborhood.

How has Family House changed since you first started?
We’ve hired more people since I’ve been here, so there’s more staff, which is good, because the organization as a whole has really grown as far as the amount of work there is.  We do a lot more outreach, a lot more events - specifically with the work that YPAC has done.  I think we’ve grown as a “brand” in San Francisco, and we’ve built a really strong community for our families and our volunteers through social media. 

When I first got here, we weren’t actively doing social media. We had a Facebook page, and every time we had a volunteer group, we’d put their photos on Facebook, and put that link in the “thank you” email. We still do that today,  but we have a marketing plan now!

And that doesn’t even consider everything that’s happening with Mission Bay. When I got here, the focus was on doing what we do really well, and continuing to get better with that; and now we’re actually looking to expand and scale what we do to a level that will help even more people.

What are some of your favorite Family House memories?
There’s a couple who stayed here, Hank and Ashley Stull, from Central CA - they really influenced me. Their baby, Lorenzo, didn’t develop a diaphragm, and everything in his chest cavity merged together and he ended up passing away.  It’s so sad, but that family, Hank and Ashley, were the sweetest couple, and Hank’s passion was food.  They stayed here for a week after Lorenzo passed, and since Hank was a chef, he ended up cooking a meal for the 10th Avenue staff - me, Greg, Jon, and Joe. They were just the most beautiful, positive people, and they made us this dinner, and they were so thankful… They came back for an anniversary of Lorenzo’s passing, and they had since gotten married and shared photos of their life with us…

It’s a great example of how even when things don’t turn out the way you want them to, there’s still a light. It was still a beautiful experience despite the tragedy.  And they were able to use the baby’s organs to save another child, they used his heart to save another baby. 

Each of the staff here connect differently to different families, and anytime I’ve really had a chance to connect with anyone - the kid or the parents (usually the parents, for me) - it really makes a strong, positive impact on me, and you get a sense of how what we do really helps.

Their story was one of the first posts on our blog: http://www.familyhouseinc.blogspot.com/2011/07/food-filled-with-love.html

Monday, March 31, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Monique Ngo

Monique Ngo is a very special  Volunteer Leader at Family House. She herself knows firsthand what families experience, as she was front and center during her mother’s own battle with life-threatening illnesses. Monique was unsure if she could emotionally handle being a volunteer, “When I first read that the Family House is for families whose children are receiving treatment for cancer and other serious illnesses, I was hesitant. I was hesitant because for almost half my life my mom was seriously ill with first kidney failure, then cancer. So I was hesitant because I didn't know if I would be able to mentally handle seeing more suffering.” This is something that volunteers sometimes experience.

Monique overcame her reservations of volunteering at Family House when she thought, “If I were to volunteer here, I could help people that face the same difficulties as me. That thought motivated me and in a way gave me some strength to want to volunteer at Family House."

Monique has been an amazing asset to Family House as she helps out our business office with fundraising projects and assisting families in navigating San Francisco. Monique’s dedication to Family House has made for some special moments with the families and she even spent her 21st birthday volunteering at Family House! Thank you so much Monique, we adore you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

All Star Followup: Max Meierotto

Max and his parents first stayed at Family House for 3 months in 2011. They had come to San Francisco all the way from Vienna, Austria, so he could take part in a clinical trial for the treatment of Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease, a very rare condition where the myelin sheath around Max’s brain deteriorates, causing significant motor function issues.

His mom, Stefanie, says of the clinical trial, “We were very, very happy about it, but of course we didn’t have a place to stay - and then Family House came in and gave us a bed.  There were very nice people to talk to and hang out with there. It was a place to just be home.”

Once a year for the next few years, Max returns to UCSF for checkups, including an EEG, an SSEP, an MRI, and all kinds of blood tests. “He’s 8 years old, and he’s having good progress with everything - it’s what we wish for.”

 When he comes to San Francisco now, he’s now longer the baby of the family. Stefanie recalls, “Last year in June, we had twin girls, healthy twin girls, and I’m not bored anymore. (Not that I was bored before, but now I learned what it means to be extremely busy!) They’re a big joy.

“In the beginning, it was a little bit hard for Max, because he was our prince for 8 years, and he had to learn to accept that there are other people that Mommy has to help with.  But he’s getting much, much better. Since the girls are getting older, and moving around more, he thinks this is hilarious, and enjoys them now quite a bit. It’s good for him - he’s learned a lot.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Family House Staff Spotlight: Jeanine Homich

Interview with Jeanine Homich, Administrative Coordinator

How did you come to be at Family House?
One of my closest friends (Susan Neff) started working here in November 2006, and I remember thinking, "Great, our kids are graduating high school and she found this new place, and I'll have a new place to volunteer!"  At that time, Susan and I were volunteering 20 hours a week at our sons' school, Marin Catholic High School, and I remember thinking that I could put my hard work into something new and wonderful. I think my first volunteer experience was a holiday dinner - the Monday before Thanksgiving or the Monday before Christmas.

In 2010, I became a contractor to work on Quickbooks one day a week. In 2011, I was working two days a week, and have been working three days a week since 2012.

How has Family House changed since you first started?
For me, since I'm not coming in so "casually," the work I'm doing is more serious, having more of an impact.  For the organization, it feels like we're getting bigger, with the upcoming move to Mission Bay. It hasn't really changed that much, but it's more developed - more grown up, maybe.

What are some of your favorite Family House memories?At events, I really enjoy dancing with the kids; or day-to-day interactions at the House like laughing about something with a fellow staff member or going to lunch together. It's all about enjoying the quiet moments with coworkers or a family. It's not just one thing. Last year, I really enjoyed going to dinner with the Monickens in Sausalito and having sushi - that was really, really nice.

Seeing beautiful children come back well with happy moms, just paying us a visit, years later… And reading some really beautiful letters from people who stayed here in the 80's and 90's, and just give us an update on how they're doing.  In my job, I take donations through the mail and send thank-you letters, and see a lot of notes from families that are doing well now. We got one from a patient who stayed here in the 80's, and now he's all grown up and is working as a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He sent a donation and a note to say that everything's great, and he just wanted to give back.  I'll never forget reading that letter.  It's very inspirational, reading letters like those - I love that! I love to see the children that we've helped all grown up.  You can just tell by the way they write that their hearts are just a little bigger.  They're changed, but in a really positive way - you can just tell.

At Family House, you just know that what you're doing makes a difference to people. I guess I love that the most.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Maddie’s Journey, by Jenny DeHart

My daughter, Madison, was 13 when she was diagnosed with cancer.  It was June of 2011 and I took  3 of my children to the doctor to get their Whooping Cough vaccination.  While we were there and after the Dr. left the room, I asked the nurse if it was ok for Maddie to have the shot if she had whooping cough already.  When she went out to ask the Dr. he advised us to go to the ER before having the vaccination just in case.  I waited a few hours and we went after dinner, around 7:30 that night.  After 2 hours and chest x-rays, we found out that Maddie had a massive tumor in her chest behind her right lung, and as it grew it was pushing on her lungs and causing the cough.  We knew within two weeks that the tumor was cancerous, and so our journey began. 

On August 5, 2011, Maddie had what we refer to as her "big surgery".  It was a scary day for me, as things drastically changed the day before when we went for her pre-op appointment.  At first I had been told that they would be removing the tumor from her side, under her arm, and no scar would show, and that they were allowing 5 hours for her surgery.  During the pre-op, I was informed that the surgery now was scheduled for the whole day, and that the tumor was wrapped around the arteries to her head and right arm, as well as the nerves to her diaphragm and vocal chords.  They also let me know that they would be opening up her chest to get it out.   I was horrified and they went further in telling me that if they removed the whole tumor, they would have to remove her right arm and she would not have a voice anymore.   I didn't have time to process any of this at all, she was going in the very next day.

About four hours into the surgery, the Dr. called me in the waiting room and told me that the MRI was wrong and the tumor was NOT wrapped around all those important arteries and nerves!!  That was our first miracle.  When I saw my sweet Maddie 6 hours later, she was in ICU with every tube imaginable connected to her, but I saw her right arm, and about 20 minutes later I heard her sweet voice, and I knew that she was going to be ok.

Eight days later, when she was discharged from the hospital, and we began our two hour drive home to Turlock, California.  We were an hour and half away from home, and I received a phone call from her oncologist at UCSF with more devastating news.  The pathology report had come back on the tumor and it showed a very aggressive cancer which indicated that Maddie would need to have chemo and radiation.  They gave her a "small" break after her "big surgery" of one month, before she had surgery to insert a port into her chest, and she began chemo that same day, September 6, 2011.

This is when our second miracle occurred.  We were referred to Family House and they became our second home for the next 6 months.  I say "they" because the people of family house made us feel as though we were home.  The first person we met was Kara.  She did our orientation and had nothing but a smile on her face the whole time!!  She was our first contact in our "new home".  Subsequently, meeting everyone else, John, Joe, Greg, Amy and now Karen,  was amazing!!  Family House became our home, and the people who work there, and the families that stay there are who made that happen. 

We needed that miracle because Maddie and I were separated from the other children for the majority of 6 months.  It was very difficult on our our little family.  The staff was so consistent through support, from activities for Maddie, everything they provided in the house, and even just basic conversations, or simple smiles and hugs that helped us get through our day.  They were always encouraging us and always there for us when we needed them the most!  They MADE Family House a home for us, not just a house.

Our third miracle came when the Doctor declared that Maddie was cancer free on February 13, 2012.  She then had her port removed on Valentine's Day.   The only thing that was bittersweet about that news, was that we had to go to our real home.  Of course we WANTED to go home, to reunite with the other kids, but leaving Family House was so hard.  They were by our side through the darkest time in our lives and we had to leave them.

Next week it will be 2 years since Madison was declared "Cancer Free".  She is 15 years old now and thriving in school, actually in all aspects of her life.  We have been given the opportunity to be able to stay at Family House periodically over the past two years for her check ups that will continue for 3 more years, regularly.  It feels good when we get to "go home", and know that we will be welcomed and loved by all our "family" there.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Wendy Chang

 Great volunteers make their way to Family House through all sorts of different channels. Wendy Chang first heard about Family House through our very own Social Media Coordinator, Joey Kotfica. Wendy and Joey volunteer together at Project Open Hand in San Francisco. Wendy has dedicated a majority of her time to volunteering at various organizations including: Hand on Bay Area, Aidswalk SF, AIDS Foundation and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Wendy has been an extraordinary help to Family House both in the Business Office as well as at our Thanksgiving, Christmas parties and at our largest fundraiser of the year, Cabernet for Connoisseurs where over $1 Million dollars was raised.

In addition to volunteering, Wendy works part-time as an exam proctor for city and state government jobs and as a theater usher. She also enjoys reading, gardening and walking around San Francisco.

Wendy, you provide tremendous support to help events and projects run smoothly and always have a smile on your face! Thank you so much for your support at Family House!