Monday, November 28, 2011

Boswick the Clown came to Family House!

     Boswick is the San Francisco Bay Area's premier family entertainer. An accomplished clown, juggler, and magician, Boswick has provided quality entertainment and fun for thousands of people across the country. He has been involved with Family House for many years and has provided endless laughter and joy to our families and their children.
           "I’ve been doing the Thanksgiving Family House event for a lot of years. I do a lot of shows, I’m approaching 7500 shows in my career but this is the show I get most nervous about. A lot of the kids have seen me, Raul’s family alone has been there now 2 years, they’ve seen me numerous times. Some kids will have nothing to do with me, the staff has certainly seen me and the volunteers look at me like this... “uh huh...a clown...” I’m a celebrity among these kids, they see my picture around, they all either own one of my DVDs or have easy access to it. In the Family House world, I’m Robin Williams. It’s pretty cool but a lot to live up to. And then there are kids like Lana, Hannah (who I called Hanukah), Max and Rubin, neither of whom could speak. These kids laughed and laughed hard. These kids are in my life forever, with their laughter.
           Kids need laughter like they need dessert. A child can live without both but that’s not a life you want for a child. It’s fun to see kids eat birthday cake and it’s just a kick to see children laugh. Each year I get the kids (and crowds) laughing harder and harder. I guess that’s what I get nervous about; can I top what I did the year before? Will the kids respond? I don’t know. Performing is walking a tight rope, I get big rewards in laughs and hugs but it’s a bit scary climbing to the wire.
           Hopefully I can keep coming back year after year. This is the show that makes me nervous, it’s also the show with the most reward."

        All of us at Family House really appreciate the smiles and laughs that Boswick brings us. A father staying at one of our houses sumed it up pretty well; "It's a beautiful sound when you hear any person, but in particular a little child, laugh so hard they can't control themselves. Those kids and (ahem) some of the adults, were "taken away" for awhile. Very therapeutic, very fun."

     So we thank you Boswick, so much, for entertaining us and for keeping our families laughing! Please visit Boswick's website for more informations: 

Inspiration to get you through your day!

"If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but to hope? We have two options, medically and emotionally: give up, or fight like hell."
                  --Lance Armstrong

Saturday, November 12, 2011

We Love! is an enterprise cloud computing company that aims to help enterprise customers increase sales, improve customer service, collaborate with their team, and develop customized applications on the Salesforce platform.  Another aspect of this company is their Foundation which is based on a simple idea: Donate 1% of’s resources to support organizations that are working to make our world a better place. To say the least, Family House is extremely glad to be reaping the benefits of this great foundation’s generosity.

Since early 2009, Salesforce has been an extremely important and driving force behind the success of Family House. They have contributed countless hours, close to 1,000 dollars in donations and the generous time and energy of over 200 volunteers.  Throughout the years, Salesforce has carried out numerous events and activities for our families. From painting rooms, gardening and reorganizing the garage; to creating a carnival, hosting food drives and a summer kick-off BBQ, nothing stops the Salesforce team when it comes to doing good at Family House! In fact, since partnering with the New Hire employees, volunteer support at Family House has risen 50%! Every time Salesforce team members enter our houses, the place ends up looking better and the kids and their families feel better too!

Salesforce volunteers help us create activities that enhance the lives of the families staying with us. During these times, our families and their children are able to forget the stresses of the hospital and the pain of treatment. They are able to have fun, enjoy themselves and smile! We thank for doing such great work and for helping change the lives and situations of the families staying with us at Family House.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Odetta's Story of Hope

My name is Kathy Allbright and I have lived with Type 1 Diabetes for 30 years. I have a condition called Hypoglycemic Unawareness, which means I cannot detect when my blood sugars rapidly drop to dangerous lows. In 2009, I discovered a non-profit organization called Dogs4Diabetics that trains service dogs to detect and alert their diabetic handlers to the onset of hypoglycemic episodes.  After applying to the program and successfully completing the training, I was paired with a small, black labrador retriever named Odetta. Since our partnership, I have not experienced any dangerous episodes, as Odetta has kept me safe in countless situations, allowing me to enjoy the activities I felt I could no longer do. She has been my guardian angel, my closest companion and brings smiles to people everywhere we go. 

In May, I found a lump on Odetta's check and a biopsy revealed a fibrosarcoma tumor. I was completely devastated by her diagnosis, as Odetta is just four years old. After an aggressive surgery, which removed her entire cheek bone, dirty margins remained. The oncologist told me that our only hope for removing the microscopic cells that remained was radiation therapy at UC Davis, though she said it could take time to get an appointment. Since Odetta's cancer was very aggressive, waiting wasn't an option. She has saved my life so many times and now it was my turn to fight for hers. I frantically emailed and called everyone I knew, hoping for a connection to UC Davis, and a few days later my hard work paid off. I received a call from Gordon Theilen, the 83 year old founder of the UC Davis veterinary oncology department, who said he had heard about Odetta's cancer through a prayer chain started by a work colleague of mine. He was amazed by her service and scheduled a meeting with the UC oncologist immediately. I soon after moved to Davis where Odetta successfully completed 17 rounds of radiation.  Three months later Odetta’s energy and fur, which has turned white, returned. We have follow up appointments every three months for the first year, though she will be monitored closely for the rest of her life.

           Cancer is agonizing for everyone. There have been many times when fighting Odetta's cancer has felt completely overwhelming both emotionally and physically. In the beginning, I felt consumed by feelings of loss, guilt, and anger. Without the endless support of my community of friends, family and veterinarians this journey would be impossible for me to make.  It is now my turn to share the support that so many people have given to me. Odetta and I are volunteering each month at Family House, visiting children afflicted with cancer and their families. My wish is to bring smiles, inspiration and empathy to them on their journey with cancer, and most importantly to help share what so many people have shared with me: hope.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Anna's Story

Anna Lark first learned of Family House in 2001 when her older brother Josh was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Because of the severity of his diagnosis, Josh was immediately referred to UCSF Medical Center. Coming from the Central Valley, the Larks were not prepared to split their family up by the distance and thankfully within a week of Josh’s transfer, all seven of the Larks had moved in to the 2nd Ave House. Mom and Dad, Anna and her sister, Josh and two other brothers were all welcomed into the house and stayed there on and off for over a year and half. In that time, Anna remembers that the entire Family House staff was always there for them. The other families were a great source of support and the house was filled with positive and comforting energy.
            After Anna and her sister donated two rounds of stem cell transfers, Josh began to get better. He was released from UCSF Medical Center in 2008 and the family returned home. Unfortunately, shortly after Josh was doing better, Anna’s mom received devastating news. She had a brain tumor, lung cancer and 3rd stage breast cancer. She fought strongly through chemotherapy and radiation but died in April 2004.
            More bad news came Josh’s way when he had to return to UCSF with his dad for more treatment.  Anna and the rest of her siblings were able to again stay at Family House, this time for about two months. Now being a single parent family working off a teacher’s salary, the Larks were extremely thankful for what Family House was able to provide for them. Shelter, food and kindness do not even seem to cover it. Anna and her family were guests of honors at benefits; they were invited to movie premieres and had lots of exciting experiences at baseball games and music concerts. 
            Josh is in remission now and doing great. He is a happy and healthy college student, as is Anna. She has returned to San Francisco and Family House is now lucky enough to have her as a volunteer. Anna says she has nothing but gratitude for the people at Family House because they brought the comfort of a home to her and her family when they really needed it.
            After experiencing Family House as a resident, Anna now chooses to volunteer her time and special skills. Coming from a family of artists, Anna has been doing monthly art therapy sessions in the houses. She hopes to bump it up to twice a month because she just can’t get enough! Doing art with the families is a great way to release emotions and it is a fun and creative activity that can allow the parents a bit of a break too. Anna understands a lot of what these families are going through and we at Family House appreciate so much that she has come back to help out! Anna hopes that by sharing her story, more and more people will become aware of the wonderful things this organization is doing, and hopefully more and more people will be inspired to help.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bindi the Therapy Dog visits Family House!

 Thank you Sheila and Bindi for visiting our 10th Ave House!
We appreciate all the smiles, wags and laughs!

Monday, October 24, 2011

             At the end of August 2011, the Monicken family received life-changing news when their nine year old daughter, Hana, needed an emergency MRI after a routine eye exam. Doctors in Fairbanks, Alaska, found a mass in Hana’s brain. This mass was later identified as a tumor and the diagnosis of cancer was suddenly a part of the Monicken’s reality. They were quickly referred to UCSF Benioff Children’s Center at the beginning of September where Hana is currently in a 27 week course of chemotherapy and a 6 week course of daily radiation. 
            Dave and Mami, Hana’s parents cannot conceive what they would have done had they not found Family House. In early September, they arrived at our 10th Ave house deprived of sleep and a comfortable environment. They were so thankful after they were able to catch up on a private and quiet nights sleep with out any beeping monitors!
            Because the Monicken’s live in Alaska, Family House has allowed their family to stay together during Hana’s treatment. Hana’s older sister Emily was even able to come and meet her family once Hana was settled in. With their financial burden of accommodations lifted, and the convenience that Family House brings, the Monicken’s are now able to spend their time focused on Hana’s treatment and health.
            When asked what their favorite part of Family House is, Dave, Hana’s father talked about the general sense of security that Family House provides; the sense that everything is going to be okay. Dave even said with a smile that it is like being with relatives but better! There is no sense of imposition and they don’t even feel the burden that sometimes comes with being a guest. The Monicken’s are thankful for the remarkable staff and the huge comfort that comes with staying at Family House. Dave feels as though going through similar situations creates a unique and special bond and their entire family appreciates the sense of understanding that they get from the other families staying in the homes.

Have you laughed today?

ClownZero is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children and communities worldwide through humanitarian clowning and therapeutic performing arts. They have been working with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital for the past year and have been making powerful changes in the lives of the patients they serve.

ClownZero is a strong believer in the health benefits of laughter. They believe that it can facilitate empathetic and imaginative play to fight against stress, reduce pain by releasing endorphins, promote a positive outlook, help patients and families cope with difficult situations, and strengthen the bonds between family members. Laughter can also boost the cardiovascular and respiratory systems by improving muscle capacity and deep breathing.

So please remember to make time in your day to laugh! It not only feels great, but it’s good for you too!

Friday, October 21, 2011

“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”  Mohandas Gandhi

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Parra family shares their story

            Leslie Parra is a brave and strong 11 year old whose family has intermittently stayed at Family House since earlier this year. Leslie was first treated at UC Davis Medical Center after experiencing an aneurysm at the age of 4. In March of 2011, the Parra Family was referred to seek further treatment at UCSF Children’s Hospital based on the difficulties of diagnosing her condition. Leslie has gone through 5 brain surgeries in the past 4 years and doctors are just now beginning to get a better sense of her condition. Several kinds of brain tumors have been thought to be the culprit, but doctors are still not confident to make a concrete diagnosis. The Parra family has most recently been staying at our 10th Ave. House during Leslie’s radiation treatments and follow-ups. Thankfully, her scans are looking good and the radiation she has been receiving for the past two months seems to be helping a lot.
No matter what heath concerns a family is faced with, stress and the difficulties of an uncertain diagnosis are bound to affect the daily lives of the patient and their family. For Leslie and her parents, Family House is a place that helps lessen these stresses and troubles. Cathy and Macario, Leslie’s parents, are very grateful for their home away from home during Leslie’s visits to UCSF. Family House is not just a convenient place for the Parra family to stay while in San Francisco, but they also appreciate the encouragement and support that the other families staying in the house so willingly give.
Cathy also appreciates that Family House “provides everything” to covor their basic needs. She even feels as though she doesn’t want to go home to Salinas when she is here! When comparing similar organizations that the Parras have stayed with to Family House, Cathy feels as though there is no better place for her family. When asked about her favorite part of Family House, Cathy spoke fondly of the staff and said that they are all extremely sensitive to each family’s situation, and that they have the right heart for this kind of work. All staff members, Cathy says, are “there for you” and have great attitudes. In addition to the staff, Leslie would have to say that her favorite part of the house is the living room area and TVs :).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Here at Family House, we are lucky to have wonderful volunteers come and help out on a weekly basis. Every Wednesday and Thursday, WorkLink comes in and brings fresh bread and pastries to our families. They also disinfect and organize common areas to keep the house safe and welcoming for everyone!

WorkLink provides innovative employment and transitional services for individuals with disabilities. Their mission is to establish a collaborative relationship among government, education, private agencies, advocacy groups and employers in order to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We respect the work that they do and really appreciate them coming in every week to support our families!

One employee who volunteers at the Koret house would like to share some words of encouragement with our Family House community:
To all Kids and Parents of Koret House,

My name is Jeff Malick. I am a client of Worklink. I volunteer at Koret House every Thursday. I have a personnel and family story to share with all of you.

Just before my 17th birthday I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I had 3 years of therapy. During that time  my Dad and I spent 150 days in the hospital. I know how hard it is for the kids and their family to go through medical treatment. While I was in treatment my Mom was diagnosed with Cancer. Our family knows how important it is for the whole family to help each other.

I want everyone at the Koret House to know to be strong, keep positive, and do your best to keep a happy attitude. There is a end to your difficult times. Both my Mom and I are doing fine.

Jeff Malick
Thank you Jeff and the entire WorkLink community for all that you do. If you would like to look further into the work they do, you can click HERE.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Intern's Look Back...

It has been exactly a month since I left San Francisco and my work family at Family House. 
I can still remember my first day at Family House...I was so excited, but nervous. I really wanted to make a good impression. Its crazy how fast time flies. Those three months went by in the blink of an eye, but there was time enough for me to see what a special place Family House really is. 
Looking back I remember starting this blog as a fun side project. I wanted a way for Family House's extended family (patients, parents, siblings, volunteers, donors, staff, board members...everyone basically) to be kept up to date about what Family House was doing. It didn't take long for this blog to become so much more than that. I remembering writing one of my first weeks about the Family House spirit, about how inspired I was by the people I worked with, and how blessed/lucky/spoiled I was to be able to work with them. It definitely was the best first job after Undergrad I could have ever asked for.
The people who work at Family House are a special group of individuals.
One of the families I interviewed said, "It is like everyone here is doing exactly the job they were meant to be doing."
I can relate to that grandmother's sentiment as I saw more compassion and heart in the people I worked with then I ever thought humanly possible. They were always willing to go out of their way to help out any family in any way that they could...sometimes even pulling money out of their own pockets to try and help. They took me in as one of their own from day one, and made me feel as though I was at home. We were more then just coworkers... we were a FAMILY.
Its honestly kind of weird how much I have thought about each of them since I left...but when you are part of something great you can't help but miss it I guess.
And Family House really is a special is the type of place that brings anyone and everyone in with a warm embrace. It is there if you need a shoulder to cry on...a joke to make you laugh... or a person to remind you that you are important and loved.

To my Family House work family... I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of the Family...I miss you all everyday...but I find comfort in knowing that you are doing exactly what you were meant are all using your wonderful light to touch the lives of everyone who finds their way to Family House. They are all so lucky to have you.

So Until We Meet Again...I am sending you All of My LOVE!
Miss you all the way beyond the stars and back!

<3 Jill

Friday, September 2, 2011


Dana comes to Family House on a weekly basis to help ease the stress of our families through massage. She is a certified in Swedish massage, acupressure, and reflexology. And if that was not enough, she teaches 5th grade as well. Her wonderfully warm personality shines through the house when she is here and makes everyone feel at ease. Her kindness and generosity at helps give others a time to themselves to relax, breathe, and simply take a break from the day. We are extremely lucky to have Dana sharing her time and talents with our families!


Monday, August 29, 2011

A message from our YPAC Chair, Karen Banks

So ready for a story that’s sad, happy, amazing and a little lucky? So here we go……
My back story might be a little sad to some but it lets you understand how I became the type of person who would be willing to clean, paint, take out the trash and do any other activity to help such a special cause. My mother passed away when I was at the ripe age of 9. This was upsetting but it has allowed me to become the person I am today for which I am grateful. I live life to the fullest and giving back is something that my mom deeply believed in – she almost become a nun she was so giving! Needless to say, I believe in giving back to the community and it just makes you a better/friendlier/nicer/karmic person. Period.
I became involved with the amazing organization Family House because a friend of mine was volunteering for school credit at this non-profit I had never heard of. He would go and volunteer at these houses doing cleaning, chores etc., and I thought to myself why would you want to go and clean and organize someone else’s home? I don’t even like to clean mine! So he went along volunteering at these houses for awhile and then he asked if I wanted to volunteer at this event - Cabernet for Connoisseurs back in February 2009. I didn’t know what this was and at the time I had a prior commitment so I couldn’t go. (I learned later that it was my loss for not attending this event because it is quite remarkable, more on that later.) So finally! He asked once more with two of our other friends to volunteer at Supper club for an event. I thought to myself volunteering at a club with drinks and people and partying? That’s awesome count me in! We all agreed to spend our evening volunteering, even though we didn’t really know what we were volunteering for.
We showed up and met Amy Lenz, she was friendly and very excited to see her four new volunteers. She gave us a rundown of what Family House actually is all about (besides AMAZING!) and we set up the infamous Family House posters, blue light pens, bags and we were ready to go. The doors open and the party goers start flooding in and forking over cash to us. Say what!! All of these people, 100-150 were giving us cash! Generally $10 and $20 a person – to a charity! The back story is that Bobby “The Bunny” – a long time volunteer and advocate for Family House rented out the club and asked his friends and family to make their club entrance fee a donation to Family House. Now, I, going to clubs and evening activities for quite some time have never witnessed individuals excited to shell out money for club entrance fees. It is just unheard of! And here people were giving us oodles and oodles of donations for this wonderful cause! Something special was up in here and I knew it right away.
Long story short as well as clich├ęd, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I became part of something that was bigger than myself and helped more families than I could ever hope to imagine. I jumped at the chance to join the young professionals group that was just being created at Family House by Amy Lenz and Greg Mora.  This group was my age and had two purposes: 1) obviously raise much needed funds for Family House – it costs a lot to provide FREE housing to 107 people a night! (Imagine your hotel bill for one room for one night! Geez!) and 2) Spread the word to young people to get involved and become lifelong fans of Family House. Life is about giving back and this is the perfect opportunity to give to those who desperately need it financially, emotionally, and physically.
In short, your take away from this should be to do anything: yell, scream at the top of your lungs, run through the streets and tell each and every person you know that Family House is the most impressive, giving and comforting home away from home families with children who are seriously ill could be. We need your help in any way you can provide through volunteer efforts, financial donations or just spreading this message. I am truly lucky to be part of an organization that makes miracles happen every day.
Karen Banks
YPAC Chair – Young Professionals Advisory Council

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mitzvah Kitchen!

These are the students of  Temple Emanu-El's Mitzvah Corps Program. For the next six months, they will be working with professional chefs to create healthy homecooked meals for our families. They call this project Mitzvah Kitchen. The Family House-Mitzvah Kitchen partnership began five years ago and consists of two six-month programs. At the beginning of each program, the students visit to Family House to learn more about what we do and have a discussion about service to thier community.

Last Sunday, these students were given a tour of the house and had the opportunity to listen while families shared thier stories. They learned about how cooking meals for Family House can help ease the burden and stress that our families are faced with. We are looking forward to the lasagna and turkey, rice, and vegetable soup that is on the menu for September and October!

Thank you Mitzvah Kitchen!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Laundry Locker

Thank you to Laundry Locker,, for teaming up with Family House and sharing our mission with the community. We now have our "All-Star" posters up at 147 Valencia Street and 566 Haight Street along with more information about what we do and how you can help!

Saturday Volunteer Day

Every second Saturday of the month Family House hosts a Volunteer Day during which we take care of various projects around the house. Last Saturday was a huge success as we had fourteen wonderful individuals show up to work.   

Bernice, Samantha, and Rebecca, reorganized the linen closets and made sure everything had a place. Victor, Aaron, Gordon, and Adam, helped make the house look new again by painting 4 bedroom door frames. Kristina and Marina, gave Family House that special home feeling by baking banana muffins for all of the families. Julian, Mardoux , Erica, Billy, and Emily, helped keep our communal toys safe for the children by disinfecting them and the communal areas. They also helped completely restock the house of supplies so the families would have everything they could possibly need. We would not be able to provide the level of comfort and support for our families that we do if it was not for volunteers like them. 

So a big THANKS goes out to all of you who helped make our August Volunteer Saturday another huge SUCCESS! 

Keeping Family House Clean

WorkLink, ARC of San Francisco, Toolworks, and Employment Plus, are all organizations that send us a group of smiling volunteers throughout the week to disinfect the 10th Avenue location from top to bottom Monday through Friday. 

When housing individuals who are undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious diseases, keeping a safe and clean house is of the utmost importance. Many of the children staying here have compromised immune systems due to the treatments they are receiving at UCSF, and for those individuals even a simple cold can be extremely dangerous. The individuals who come to disinfect the house day after day, are helping us foster a home that these children can reclaim their play time in. A place where they can forget about the disease that brought them here in the first place.
As if protecting our kids from germs wasn't enough, these volunteer groups are special in their own right. WorkLink, ARC, Toolworks, and Employment Plus are all organizations that help individuals with physical and mental disabilities find jobs and volunteer opportunities in their local community. These individuals come in every morning, with a smile on their face and open arms for a warm embrace. Some of them, like Danny, take public transit switching buses and spending the extra hour or two it takes to cover the distance from their home to ours to come provide this service for our families.

At our Volunteer Appreciation BBQ earlier this summer, I realized just how lucky we were to be graced by their presence. I looked around as Danny and the others danced out back in a circle. Their selfless love, and earnest hope for the good in life radiates from them with every smile and laugh. Their dedication to Family House and to the families who stay here is undeniable, and they make us all want to work a little harder to believe in the BEAUTY of EVERY DAY. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thank you to our 2011 Summer Interns!

Family House would like to sincerely thank our 2011 Summer Interns, Jill Ferguson and Tyler Scurr. Tyler's upbeat personality and willingness to tackle any task created a warm and positive experience for families and volunteers at Family House. Jill was able to bring the community of Family House to the world by creating the Family House blog: and the Family HouseTumblr:  and whas been a tremendous help to our business office. We miss you both already!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Volunteer of the Month!

Ariana Fischer spent over 100 hours volunteering at Family House this summer leading our Summer Volunteer Program and supporting Family House at various events. Her enthusiasm and compassion for our families truly encompasses what it means to be a volunteer at Family House!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's the Little Things that Count...

Matthew Farley was first diagnosed with lukemia at the age of five. After being diagnosed Matthew was treated for his cancer at Sutter Health in Sacramento. The people at Sutter worked fast and Matthew's body showed its strength when only thirty days after his diagnosis he bested the cancer and went into remission. As is often done, Matthew was told to go ahead and finish his treatment to insure the cancer would not come back. Matthew endured chemo and radiation for three years to finish up his treatment plan. Matthew had only been out of treatment for a year when he was given a harsh new diagnosis. In March of this year Matthew was told that he had contracted Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a disorder that causes the bone marrow to fail. He needed a bone marrow transplant.

Matthew's MDS is a cause of one of the treatments he received for his Lukemia. There is only a 0.1% chance that patients receiving this treatment will contract MDS. Matthew's doctor's recommended him to UCSF because of their specialization in bone marrow transplants. The Farley family found their way to Family House on July 4th. The next day Matthew went into the hospital to prep for his transplant. On July 13th, Matthew received his transplant. He has been recovering in the hospital ever since.
 At Sutter Health the Farley family stayed at a number of other facilities for families with children who are receiving medical treatments. He said that, "Family House is so much more accommodating then where we have stayed before. You do a great job of facilitating families here, like how you have a laundry facility on every floor at the 10th House."

Dealing with life-threatening diseases like Matthew's can be disheartening, but Darrel told me how they stay positive.
"Parents survive off of other families, and other parents...the other day my wife and I were putting groceries away in the communal kitchen with some of the other families and we started to talk, and out of that comes laughter. Here we all know what you are going through it is the same thing every day, so it is the little things that break up the monotony of our week that help bring us the most joy."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Real Deal - Family House makes good TV

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The Real Deal TV series did a spotlight on Family House a year ago, this is the show as it was aired from and see just how important and impactful Family House is for the Families who stay here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Transformational Change - by Greg Kuhn

In an instant a life situation can change. No one ever thinks that a serious illness will touch themselves or their family. One’s perspective on mortality and life can flip in the blink of an eye. At the age of eight I was sitting in the bathtub after a karate lesson. I noticed that I had blood spurts forming all over my body and the bruises on my legs and arms were growing before my eyes. My family and I immediately went to the hospital and found that my blood counts were plummeting. About a month later I was diagnosed with A-Plastic Anemia, a rare auto-immune blood disorder. My body had lost all of the vital blood cells that help run my body. Without platelets I was unable to clot blood and stop bleeding, without red blood cells there was not enough oxygen reaching all the cells of my body, and without white blood cells I could no longer fight infections. At eight years old I was dying.
I was very fortunate to be admitted into UCSF. There at the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Unit I was treated by an amazing staff of professionals. They found a donor with a perfect match, my sister. Within a year I had a successful transplant and was allowed to return home.
Our family was very lucky that we lived on the peninsula less than thirty minutes from the hospital. The amount of time that my family spent during the course of my illness at UCSF would have been unsustainable had we lived far away.

I returned to UCSF recently to give thanks and be of help in any way I could, it was then that they directed me towards Family House as a place where I could give my time. For these past few months I have been a volunteer at Family House. I can easily say that I am so very grateful to have the pleasure of meeting all of the wonderful guests and staff that provide such an essential service for the some of the patients at UCSF. During such trials that may befall upon a family, the importance of the resources and integrity that Family House offers and stands by cannot be summed up in words. This experience has helped deepen my understanding of others and in turn myself, and is a testament of the transformational change that is possible in this world.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Friends and my Legos are my Lifesavers!

Kiki is famous here at Family House for his love for Legos. Kiki first came to Family House in February of 2010 for treatment for a major blood disease called Beta Thalassemia. A disease which inhibits an individuals red blood cells from carrying oxygen throughout the body. Kiki was lucky enough to receive a bone marrow transplant on March 31, 2010 from the international donor bank. Kiki had to spend fifty days in the hospital after his transplant.
While Kiki was in the hospital for those fifty days he played with Legos and built different models every single day. One day Kiki said, "My friends and my Legos are my lifesavers!" Kiki's grandmother, Katia thought that was a great title for something, and so the idea for an exhibit of Kiki's legos was born. Katia was the person who actually gave Kiki his first Lego set and from then his love only grew. In only 120 days while staying at Family House Kiki built 130 Lego Toys from more than 50,000 parts. The exhibition was held on July 26, at St. Anne's Church in the Sunset district and over a hundred people came out to support Kiki.
Katia said that the people here at Family House were a crucial part in making Kiki's exhibition a reality.

 She said "the people who work here work with their heart and soul, it is as if this were what they were destined to do. Family House is better then a regular family. A regular family will bicker and fight. This is more than a family. But there couldn't be a better name for it then family."
Katia went on saying how comfortable and at home they felt here. When she told Kiki that thety were coming back to Family House last Monday from Hawaii where they live. He replied, "I am going to my home. I get to go home again."  
While talking to her, she could not say thank you enough. From the beginning she said they felt at home here. They felt as though they had a support group who was always happy, and excited to celebrate when good news came, or be there when things went south.

She said, "You meet friends for a life here, like the Garcias. People become more than relatives. The individuals who work here don't just go the extra mile to help you, they go a 100 miles out of the way to do it. There will not be enough in my life to give back what they have given to us. My heart, soul, everything, our family, our entire family would help out in anyway and volunteer for Family House if we could." 

Though Kiki still has his ups and downs, the doctors say he is one of the most successful cases out of all the research studies. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Remission is Only Part of the Journey

Remission, is a beautiful word for patients and families of individuals who are battling cancer. For the Yocupicio family this word has become a reality. Their fifteen year old son Raul has been battling Leukemia since October of 2009. As a result the Yocupicio family has spent the better part of the last two years living at Family House instead of their hometown of Modesto, CA. Their first stay, was for ten months while Raul underwent radiation and chemo. After the first round of treatment Raul was given the green light to go home, but relapsed in October of 2010. 
Since Raul's relapse Marcela, Humberto and their three other sons, Brian, Jordan, and Angel have called our 10th Avenue location home. Raul fought back after his relapse with another round of chemo and a bone marrow transplant which he received in March of 2010. The transplant and chemo worked, and Raul's doctor informed the Family of the good news just a few weeks ago. Though things are definitely looking up for the Yocupicios, Raul still has to undergo another round of more intensive chemo to insure that the cancer will never return. The boys will once again enroll in the San Francisco Unified School District so they can stay with their brother has he undergoes more treatment. 

Raul goes to the clinic three times a week, lab work is on Mondays, a lower lumbar puncher happens every Thursday, and every third week he checks into the hospital for five days of chemo, but through it all he has family by his side.

Raul's mother Marcela spoke highly of Family House saying,
"There is everything I need here. I feel more at home here then at my normal home. When I leave I am going to miss this place...I just feel so comfortable here." 
She praised the staff saying,
"The staff is so sweet, whenever you ask something, the always have the answer. And when they don't have it, they know who does, and make sure to get you the answer."

 We are so incredibly happy to hear the good news for Raul and the rest of the family, but when the time comes for them to leave it will be a bittersweet one. The Yocupicio's have made their way into the hearts of both the staff and the other families who call Family House home.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Vision of Inspiration

It was 1994 when Austin Young first came to Family House. He was only six months old. Austin had been born with Retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer commonly found in children. Austin and his family lived on and off at Family House until Austin was five, while he received radiation treatments to try and save his vision. A process his younger sister later would also have to endure for a few years with him.

Now, eleven years later Austin sits before me today as a seventeen year old with a driver's license about to start his senior year of high school. Sadly college visits aren't the only thing that brings Austin back to San Francisco. This past Easter Austin's sister notice a lump on his neck. It was Rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer, a possible side effect of all the radiation Austin received as a child. Austin is back at Family House on and off for the next year while he receives radiation and chemo therapy. Despite a scar on Austin's neck, a side effect from his first surgery, you would never know he was sick. He speaks of his treatment in a very "matter of fact" fashion.
He said, "the good thing about getting both radiation and chemo at the same time is that the kind of chemo I get doesn't make me sick. I can't receive the more intense chemo that makes you sick while undergoing radiation. That's the benefit of my treatment."  

Austin's mom Bonnie, reminisced about their first stay at Family House as I sat and talked to them.
Before they found Family House, Bonnie said they stayed at this really cheap hotel down by the water in San Francisco. "It cost $50 for one night, and it was dirty and grimy."After that first night a social worker recommended them to Family House, a recommendation Bonnie will never forget. Over those first five years Bonnie said they probably stayed at Family House at least 30 times. 
She said, "it was like a vacation. The staff here knew how to bring joy back into life"
She spoke of the other families they grew close to in that time, who they still keep in touch with eleven years later. 

Austin's described his schedule for the week, "Monday afternoon I go in for radiation, Tuesday I spend the night in the hospital while I am receiving chemo, then Wednesday morning its another round of radiation.  Thursday and Friday I usually have more radiation and whatever other appointments I need to do before going home for the weekend."To most of us this seems like a miserable way to spend a week, but to Austin this is normal. This is what he has to do to get better, so he can go on to major in Computer Science in college a year from now like he wants to. 

Austin's remarkable life earned him an invite from one of his childhood doctors to go and speak before the first year medical students at the University of Pennsylvania last year.

Bonnie tried to describe what makes Family House special. She said, "It's a beautiful thing just for support...its not all good and dandy what we are all going through here, but it is more the understanding everyone has here. For us this is our life, it becomes kind of normal. Other people who aren't dealing with it often don't know how to react or handle it, but here everyone gets it because they are going through it too."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

National Charity League

The National Charity League is an organization that brings mothers and daughters closer together by participating in service projects around their local community. Family House has been lucky enough to be one of the organizations NCL works with.
This summer once a week, every tuesday a group of mothers and daughters have donated their time to doing various jobs around the house such as restocking and organizing supplies in the house, arts and crafts projects, and marketing support.
Their time and support have been immense help this summer, and we are so greatful to have them as volunteers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Lesson in Hope - By Allyson Holminski

It was 1982.  I had just graduated from college in Los Angeles and moved back up north to San Francisco.  At that time, there was an outfit in SF called the Volunteer Bureau - if you wanted to volunteer, you called them and gave them your parameters, and they put you in touch with a needy organization that could use your time and talents.  "I would prefer to work with children, or maybe the elderly, and would like something face to face - not a hotline situation please..."

And thus began what has been a nearly 30 year relationship with Family House.
Back then, the house on Irving was the only facility - there was no 10th Avenue location, and the Annex in the hospital was just a glimmer in the mind of the fabulous Dr. Ablin.  The basement in Irving Street was not built out yet - it was kind of a dark and dank place, with a washing machine and scary shadows.  And when that basement went through its first improvement, what is now offices was a playroom with toys and games (mostly donated) and books (also donated, some rather dog-eared).

There was no Volunteer Coordinator back then - the House Manager (Meg, I think it was?) lived in a little apartment over the garage, and her domain included finding people who could volunteer and scheduling their time.  I went to Family House once a week, on Wednesday nights.  My job was to help families who arrived at night get checked in, show them around, and answer their questions.  If no families were arriving that night, my job (although I never really saw it as "work") was to play with kids, talk (or listen) to the parents, and just generally hang around and try to make people more comfortable.  I LOVED it!

I really felt connected when I encountered the same family on multiple nights.  Probably the most stunning example is Mac and Adam, from a small town in Idaho.  Adam was a precocious 11 year old with a brain tumor.  His father, Mac, brought him to SF for treatment, and then back again and again for follow up sessions.  At some point, Adam required months of chemo or radiation, and Mac and Adam stayed at FH for months on end.  Adam's mom stayed behind in Idaho with Adam's sibling(s).  I could always gauge how Adam was doing by the look on Mac's face when I walked in the door.

What has stuck with me all these years about Adam was his upbeat attitude, even when things weren't going as well as he wanted.  One time, he was talking to me about school.  He had missed quite a bit of school because of his trips to SF; even when he was home, sometimes school just wasn't in the cards.  "I just REALLY REALLY hope that I can go into 6th grade.  I REALLY don't want to have to repeat 5th grade....  I HOPE so much that I can move on...."  And then he became a bit wistful...  "But then, that's really all we can do is hope...."  And with that, he turned and continued playing with whatever had been occupying his attention before we began to chat.

WOW!  Really??!  How old are you??  From the mouths of babes and all that.
I think about Adam and Mac sometimes and wonder how Adam is.  That cherub-faced little boy would be about 40 now!  I wonder if his body continued to cooperate with his treatments and wishes.  I wonder if he found love and married.  Did he have children (a concern of Mac's, due to all the treatment he had to endure...)?

Those two people probably have NO idea the perspective they brought to my life, and that I still think of them.  I really REALLY hope that they are both still out there, enjoying life and each other.  But then, that's really all we can do is hope, right Adam?

The Thinkers

The Thinkers are a musical duo who brought music back to Family House last Friday, when they came to preform for the families at the 10th Avenue location. The dynamic pair first met freshman year of college when they lived together as roommates. Now they are on tour performing at libraries, children's museums, hospitals, and anywhere else where they think their music can bring joy to the children.

Bo and Matt googled "organizations in San Francisco to play for children", and found Family House. They sent us an email to see if they could perform for our kids, and of course we said yes. Their fun loving music
made even the adults giggle and dance last friday. They came fully equipt with suitcases filled with instruments, and their two stuffed dogs Bengy and Missy to add to the fun. They had all of the audience participating by the end of their set, and no one walked a way from the show without a smile on their face.

It was a wonderful treat for the kids at Family House, and it reminded us all how important and powerful music is. Hopefully The Thinkers will be able to grace us with another performance in the future, after how much fun the kids had with this last one.

It truly was a Zoot filled good time!

Their first album called OH ZOOOTY is available for purchase on their website:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Quotes from families about Family House

"It's a place where everyone's going through the same thing. You should see the chiildren coming to Family House after being outside: first thing, they throw off their hats or wigs. being bald in this house is no big deal."

"You make special friends here, and I'll really miss everyone when we go home. I've made some discoveries of my own since I've been here. It's the little everyday things that count in my life. The great big events don't happen very often, and most of them are overated anyway. Fresh flowers on the table, walking on the beach on a sunny day with these children-it's little daily things like this that are important." 

"We were amazed and relieved to find a place like this. The staff was friendly and the facility was nice and clean with all the needs we could think of. There are many occasions when we just stop and think of how much of a blessing it has been to have Family House available."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Donate to Family House

Bobby the Bunny is one of our AllStar volunteers. He collects donations throughout the year, so he can purchase gifts for all the children on Easter...which he hand delivers in his Bunny Suit. Bobby also fundraises year round so we can continue to do the work we do here at Family House. This video is just one of the ways Bobby the Bunny has helped give back to Family House.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Therapy Dogs

Family House invites three different therapy dogs to come once a month and play with the kids. Abby and Bindi graced us with their presence today. Fozzy is the third lovable pouch who balances out the trio, but he normally comes on the first thursday of every month.

Therapy Dogs first started coming to family house in 2009, when the SPCA (Soceity for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) reached out to us. They had heard about us from the Koret Foundation and wanted to offer their Animal Assisted Therapy program to the kids and families who stay here. We brought them in for an interview and walk through to see if this would be an appropraite fit for their services. Immediately after the walk through a couple of the owners signed up with their dogs to volunteer their time. Over time Paws for Healing and 4-Paws heard about us and offered their services as well.
Abby is from SPCA... Bindi comes from Paws for Healing... and Fozzy is from 4-Paws.

For the last three years Family House has been inviting Man's Best Friend to help with the healing process...and we will continue to open our doors to these lovable pups because the smiles and laughter they bring to the kids staying here is...PRICELESS  

Monday, July 25, 2011

What our Families Say About Family House

Just a couple of Quotes I found about Family House...

"It gives parents a chance to have some privacy", said one parent who has been through it all. "So many terrible and emotional things happen that if they want to read or cry or beat the walls without being observed by everyone else, they can do it."

"Sounds strange, but living here has been one of the richest experiences of my life. Everyone's so real here and everyone cares about each other. We all have our down times, but we support each other through them. If one of the children is having a bad day, another child's mother or father will say, "Don't worry, he'll be better tomorrow. I know, because I've been there too."

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Word from Dr. Michelle Hermiston at UCSF

"The children we care for at UCSF come from all walks of life - serious
illnesses in children do not discriminate on the basis of socioeconomic
status or ethnicity. Since children do not have the opportunity to
choose their parents or their lot in life, I sincerely believe they all
deserve the best care possible and a chance for a long and healthy life.
Family house ensures that all kids and their families have the
opportunity for cutting edge care and the best we have to offer. Thank
you Comcast (and family house and all your fabulous volunteers) for
making this happen."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Best of the Bay

Good food, good music, and good people came together once again for our 11th annual Best of the Bay Fundraiser. After more then a month of preparation the big event finally took place on June 30th. We spent two long days setting up the venue at the Metreon...With the help of co-hosts San Francisco Magazine, Dominic Phillips Event Marketing and our twenty-one sponsors we pulled together another successful event.

There were fourty-four of San Francisco's finest Restaurants featured at the event, three sweet treat specialty shops, and seventeen different beverage venders. Seven different DJs and artists played throughout the night, insuring that there was never a dull moment.

Family House held a Silent Auction at the event with 110 items for guests to bid on, of which 100% of the proceeds went directly to Family House. The items ranged from stunning jewelry to luxurious bottle of wines, weekend getaways, and gift certificates  Once again our volunteers stepped it up, with almost 200 individuals showing up over the course of the event to help make sure everything ran smoothly.

2,000 individuals came out the night of the 30th to make the Best of the Bay a huge success.

Its been two weeks since the event took place and we finally got all the auction items and thank you letters sent out. The Best of the Bay is one of the largest events Family House participates in, but we couldn't do it alone.
So a big thanks must go out to our Sponsors, our hosts at San Francisco Magazine, our Volunteers, all of the Vendors, Restaurants, and Artisits who participated in the event...and of course all of the Individuals who purchased a raffle ticket, bid on an auction item, or just came out to support Family House and enjoy the event. The event wouldn't have been the same without any of you.

So THANK YOU ALL for making our 11th Annual Best of the Bay a Night to Remember...
And until next year keep enjoying good food, good drinks, and good company!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Feeling of Family House

My coworker Amy Lenz, who is the Volunteer Coordinator at Family House was walking down the stairs to her office in the 10th House when she walked by a family and overheard a mom say to her little boy,
Ah, were home”. 

After getting back to her office, Amy immediately emailed me this story...because these are the kind of moments that we (the staff) live for here at Family House. We want to be the home away from home you never knew you had. We want to be the community you can come to for support, who will always be waiting with open arms to help shelter you from life's little storms. So for any who find yourself knocking on our door for a place to stay...Just know you are always welcome, and I hope you will feel at home here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Food filled with Love

Hank and Ashley Stull: Their baby, Lorenzo, was born with CDH. Consequently he did not develop a diaphragm so his lungs began to grow up into his chest cavity. He passed away shortly after their arrival to FH. Hank and Ashley decided to donate his heart with the hope of saving another child’s life, and they allowed doctors to perform an autopsy which would help them prevent and treat future cases of CDH. Though Hank and Ashley’s story is heartbreaking, their strength inspiring. During their stay, Hank shared his passion for food and cooking with us, and he and Ashley created a fantastic meal for the staff at 10th Avenue to say ‘thank you’. Over dinner, they shared with us their experiences and how those experiences brought them together as a family and allowed them to create special friendships with those around them, even those who they knew a very short time. They know that Lorenzo’s life, while short, will help save the lives of many children. As they left, we promised to visit Hank’s restaurant once he opens it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Inspirational Work

Working with sick kids all of the time can be really daunting at times. It makes you ask the question "Why?" alot, "How is this fair?"...but at the end of the day you cannot help but have hope and be inspired by the strength, and determination of these families and kids. They embody all that is possible in the human spirit and heart.

Jon one of the House Manager's here at Family House was telling me a story about two families that stayed here years ago. A child named Blaine Henok and her mother came over from Ethopia to seek medical treatment here at UCSF. During their stay here at Family House they grew incredibly close to another family, the Aguilar family whose son Danny was getting a liver transplant. After the girl's treatment was scheduled to end they were going to have to go back to Ethopia, but the girl needed to come back for annual followups. The Aguilars realized how hard this was going to be for her if she went all the way back to Ethopia... so they did the most selfless thing possible, and adopted the girl so she could stay in the United States, and continue to get the medical attention she needed. She now goes to school and lives with that family in Reno, Nevada.

It is stories like this one that keeps the staff here at Family House so invested in the work we do. It is what makes us wake up in the moring excited to come to work, because we know we are witnessing something truly life changing. We are witnessing the capacities of love, and the strength of the human spirit.