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.

Small Things With Great Love

Kayden Langley was born with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease (PMD) an extremely rare disease in which the individual is born without a myelin sheath, the fat and protein covering--which acts as an insulator--on neural fibers in the central nervous system. This leaves the individual hypotonic, making it difficult to hold up their head, due to their low level of muscle development. Motor abilities for these individuals are delayed or never acquired. Muscle contractures or the shrinkage of muscle often occur over time and mental functions may deteriorate as well due to the disease. These side effects are just some of the listed symptoms connected to PMD. Currently there is no cure for this disease, nor a standard course of treatment.

Though the prognosis may seem grimm, if there is anything we have learned here at Family House, it is that there is ALWAYS room for HOPE, and that sometimes miracles do happen. For the Langley Family that miracle came when Kayden was one of four boys to be accepted into a clinical trial for PMD. Jaime, Kayden's mother remember's the doctors first telling her their son had PMD. She said, "they told me it was more likely for us to win the lottery then have a child with PMD." But the Langley's never gave up hope, and went online throwing themselves into research about the disease. It was through their research that they came across the Clinical Trial here at UCSF. The trial is researching the use of Stem Cells to regrow the missing or damaged myelin sheath. Kayden and the three other boys are among the first humans ever to use Stem Cells for treatment.

The Langley's have been here three times in the past year, and are schedule to come back three more times before Kayden's treatments are done. As I sat in the family room with Kayden, Jaime and their nurse I began to understand what Family House really stands for. Jaime and her nurse were both shocked by how nice everyone here is. Jaime said, "You wouldn't expect them to be so nice, to care so much. But they do, they are so nice here." She talked about Family House as if it was more then just a place to stay, but a place to escape and forget about the endless hours of appointments and treatments. Jaime told me about all the places she'd gotten to visit around San Francisco, like the Science Museum, Fisherman's Wharf, and the Golden Gate Bridge. She talked about how much her other two kids loved coming to Family House to spend time with the other families and staff. She feels comfortable here, she feels at home here.

Mother Teresa once said, "We can do no great things; only small things with great love." As I looked on to Kayden and Jaime that day I realized for the first time what that quote really meant and how Family House makes it possible for all of our Families and Staff to do what we can with great love.

Our Green Thumb

For the last TWO YEARS, Family House has been lucky enough to have a volunteer like Caryn Pierce who has been making our gardens at both houses beautiful! Her genuine care for our families and imaginative touch creates a welcoming environment that makes everyone smile as they pass by!

Making Family House Wishes Come True

Comcast contacted Family House a while back, asking us what they could do to help. So we created an extensive wish list of everything both Houses need to run for about a six month period. The list including things like toilet paper, paper towels, tooth paste, shampoo, conditioner, etc...pretty much all the basic resources an individual needs to live somewhere. 

Comcast took this massive list we gave them and brought it to their employees. Four employees stepped up to oversee the collection of everything. Items were collected throughout Comcast's offices across northern California, and within a months time Comcast's employees had collected over 30,000 items. Then they came down and personally delivered all the items in multiple van loads of generosity.   

Comcast helped make it possible for us to house families for six more months. Their kindness is both inspiring and grately appreciated. It is donations like this one that help remind me how amazing the human heart is.

So from all of us here at Family House, Thank you Comcast and all of you employees who took the time to make a donation and make all our wishes come true. It means more then words can ever express, because it means one more family can find comfort and a home here while dealing with some of the hardest battles of their life.

Genentech Pays It Forward

For the last two years the company Genentech has been holding a NonProfit Expo. The Expo this year invited twenty different non-profits from around the Bay area to come and participate in the event. Family House was one of the organizations lucky enough to be chosen. The event held a raffle, silent auction, and a live auction from which the proceeds went to one of the non-profits featured at the event. Whomever won the auction item got to choose which charity their winnings went towards.

Family House was choosen to be the beneficiary of a number of the auctions items...including a signed World Series Baseball, and an all-inclusive weekend trip for two to Miami, FL. 

The week following the Expo was filled with volunteer projects at the various organizations that attended the event. That following Friday a group from Genentech came to our house on 10th ready to be put to work. They did a bunch of onsite projects that we had been needing to get done. No job was to big or small. They did whatever we asked with a smile on their face.
It is generous companies like Genentech that help make Family House run. Genentech is truly a company who cares about giving back to the community they are a part of, and here at Family House we are ever so grateful for their time and support.  

Volunteer of the Month

Annie Coyne began volunteering for Family House in April of this year. Her passion to help others in a healthcare setting along with her sincere and upbeat personality has truly made her an asset to Family House!

Monday, June 27, 2011

High School Family House Sweethearts

Every week here at Family House we try and plan activities for the Families to distract them from their Hospital Routines. It is only because of our amazing group of volunteers that we are able to do as much as we do for the Families that come here. Without them we would not have been able to grow or help nearly as many families as we have.

We get volunteers of all ages and backgrounds...but one of our most recent Volunteer Days was run by a group of high school students. They came in and made cupcakes and played videos games one afternoon about a week ago. This may not seem like that much but to the kids staying at our 10th Street House in meant the world. It helped them forget about being sick and just be a normal kid again, overloading on sugar and Play Station 2 like all the rest.

This group of High School Students may not know how much their visit meant to us and the families here at Family House... But everytime they show up they open their hearts to these kids and help show us how its the small things that really count in life.

Summer BBQ

Last friday was a beautiful summer day, and here at Family House we celebrated by throwing a BBQ for all of our families. A group of thirteen volunteers from Salesforce came in to help us put on the BBQ their company sponsered. They brought with them a positive attitude ready to be put to work, and a number of fun activities for the kids to play. There was face painting, basketball, bouncy balling creations, a beading station, and a mural project all going on throughout the afternoon. 

It is always hard when planing events for the families with volunteers just because all of our families have such different and busy schedules that are completely dependent on their appointment times and the hospital's availability. This past friday though we had an amazing turn out as multiple families were able to show up to the BBQ and enjoy the Hotdogs and Hamburgers grilled by our Volunteer Grillmaster Paul.

It was a fun filled afternoon in which the volunteers and families got to talk and play, and forget about any of the normal worries that fill their days. We always try to encourage our families and volunteers to intermingle and talk because it helps build a community of support for the families as they are all going through simirlarly difficult and trying times.

Here at Family House we want to be more then just a place to stay, we want to be a becon in the dark, a community anyone can turn to for love and support. Celebrating a Sunny Summer day with a BBQ and friends and family is just one more way Family House tries to go the extra mile.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Its True..

It's your friendly Intern Jill again...and I just wanted to give you an update on how things are going.

I cannot believe it has been almost a month since I started working here. Time has just flown by. I have been really busy helping Jessica out with our Annual Best of the Bay fundraiser. But in between all the hustle and bustle of sorting through auction items, I have become a part of the life here at Family House. I have become a part of the Family House "family". I call it that because that is what its like working here. My boss Alexandra is the Greek Mother I never had always making sure I get something to eat who wears her big heart on her sleeve. Susan and Jessica are part supervisors, part teachers, part moms, and part friends. They make sure not only that I understand the jobs that they give me, but that I get out of the office to walk around and explore the city...and they listen to all of my crazy ideas (like this blog). On Fridays when Susan isn't here or when Jessica comes in late, I definitely miss their presence.

The first couple of weeks Alexandra made fun of me for being too serious and all work, because she thinks work should be fun. She wants us to be more then just coworkers, she wants us to be a family so that we can celebrate together when we get a donation, or when a volunteer does anything, and especially when a child overcomes an obstacle. She wants us to be empathetic and be emotionally invested so we know what we are working for. And after three weeks working here I am beginning to get how much of a home away from home this really is, not just for the Families who stay with us, but for the employees who work here. This is a place that will always be waiting with open arms for anyone and everyone who needs a place to give them hope and comfort...at least that is what I have found, and I am so glad I have two more months with my new work family.

Monday, June 20, 2011


A Poem Celebrating all that Fathers do in this world and in our own lives. Thank you all for being our heros and our rocks through the good times and the bad. Hope you all had a wonderful Father's Day Weekend, and that you were given the proper thanks you deserve.

A Dad is a person
who is loving and kind,
And often he knows
what you have on your mind.

He's someone who listens,
suggests, and defends
A dad can be one
of your very best friends!

He's proud of your triumphs
but when things go wrong
A dad can be patient
and helpful and strong.

In all that you do,
a dad's love plays a part
There's always a place for him
deep in your heart.

And each year that passes
You're even more glad,
More grateful and proud
just to call him your dad!

Thank you, Dad(s) .
for listening and caring
for giving and sharing
but, especially, for just being you!
Happy Father's Day

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Lovely Reminder

The first lines from William Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence" captures the beauty and wonder of life...some people spend their whole lives working towards such an outlook...     But in only four lines he gives us a goal to work for.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Madison Waller - A Mother's Story

Almost (four) years ago, our beautiful, 5 year-old daughter, Madison, was diagnosed with leukemia. The news hit us like a bomb, but, fortunately, we were sent to UCSF Children's Hospital from our home town of Redding, California--a good 4 hour drive away. Today, the prognosis for Madison is very good-- she's in remission and returns to UCSF periodically for check-ups.

I want everyone to know how important Family House has been to us throughout treatment. Frankly, I don;t know what we would've done without it. They were a light in our darkest hour--they were there, ready to be a home for us, even though we didn't know what we'd need. We feel lucky to be part of the Family House community.

Family house is the only reason that Madison had anything to open on Christmas three years ago. She was released on Christmas Eve morning after being in-patient for 48 days. My husband and I could not have cared less about Christmas, let alone gifts or a tree. Paul Goold, the Family House Director of Operations, called me at the hospital the morning we were discharged to tell me that there was a big box of wrapped Christmas gifts for Madi and her stepbrothers to take home with us. it was simply unbelievable, and meant everything to our children and to us.

I hope that those of you who donate to Family House know that the families on the receiving end are real people. A sudden, life-changing diagnosis can happen to anyone at any time, and you're never prepared. When you find yourself on the receiving end of the services Family House provides--an instant community of support, a free and safe place to live, foor and friendship--you don't know howyou get so lucky, because your lives were turned upside down before you know it. For two years, our family struggled with all sorts of basic costs to get back and forth to the hospital--during her treatment we spent $32,000 in gas, tolls, parking and minimal food purchases to get back and forth to San Francisco. It just about put us over the edge. we never thought something like this would happen to us or our beautiful girl.

There are still families that sleep in the corridors of the hospital, in a chair, on a window ledge, or in my case, in my daughter's hospital bed with her curled up next to me. It saddens me that Family House has to turn people away because there aren't enough rooms. I hope that can change.

You can't imagine what a family is going through when they have to be in the hospital 24 hours per day--you ask yourself how many kids are at home with another family member; how the bills are going to be paid; can the family afford food while their child is in-patient for months; or has their house been repossess because they cannot keep up with the mortgage along with everything else.

Today, we no longer take every minute for granted. I will never lose sight of what every family that walks through the doors of 7 Long (pediatric oncology floor) are going to endure. I know exactly what they are feeling and I want to help them by supporting Family House.
                                                                                -Elizabeth Wallers, Mother of a Child at Family House

Monday, June 13, 2011

Megan Murray's Story

4 years ago when then-13-year-old Megan Murray was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Family House became a "port in the storm" for Megan and her mom, Sue. "It was our home away from home," said Sue. "Everything changes," said Megan's mom. "For me as a mother and for my husband, you always hope you can protect your child from everything, and you can't."

During her first treatment, Megan, along with her mom, stayed at Family House every week. The following year, they were back every month. "Family House means so much to me," said Megan. "I liked staying there so much better than at a hotel. It's like having a bunch of roommates. It was interesting to hear other people's stories.

Megan never imagined she could "give back" to Family House. But that all changed when she was approached by two schoolmates.

When Megan returned to her home in Eureka after her first year of intensive treatment, two high school seniors--Ashley Wahlund and Jillian Sullivan offered to throw a fundraiser for her. Megan, a freshman at the time, was surprised--in her school of 1,600 students, she didn't even know the two girls. "I thought, 'What? Why? Wow!'" said Megan. But Megan had one stipulation: every dime raised had to be donated to Family House. "I thought about donating the money to American Cancer Society or The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," said Megan. "But I felt Family House was more near and dear to my heart. They really helped me a lot, and I wanted to help them."

The fundraiser "Miracles for Megan" was a hit. The senior advisor, Stephanie Jackson, said the seniors put in countless hours organizing, securing the building and publicizing the event. Hundreds of people showed up for food, drinks, and a live and silent auction. Even though Megan was in heavy treatment and not feeling well at the time, she pitched in. She made a dozen pieces of jewelry for the silent auction. "I felt bad not doing anything to help," said Megan. "I felt like it was the one thing I could do."

The event raised $15,000 --more than Megan ever imagined. "We were really excited," said Megan. "I knew that money could help Family House so much. After you go through something like that, you mature," Megan said."The people at Family House are the only people who can really understand what you're going through."

The staff and Board at Family House were thrilled to receive the donation, especially since Megan and her mom Sue kept them apprised of the event from the beginning. "The kind of event truly supports the mission of Family House," said Alexandra Morgan, CEO of Family House. "We are continually looking for new ways to house as many families as possible, with the hope of never having to turn away a family who needs our services. We are so proud of Megan and her school for their fantastic donation!

As for Megan, big news: she finished treatment August of 2008! She's feeling great and is busy with school and ballet lessons. 
 -Written by Christine Roher Peterson, Volunteer

Sarah Baty's Story

When Sarah Baty was two and a half years old, her mom, Shannon (four months pregnant with Sarah's sister, Stella) noticed Sarah's eye winked strangely one day. A tumor had exploded in her eye, and she was quickly diagnosed with unilateral rentinoblastoma in one eye. Today, Sarah is a healthy 11 year-old, and Stella is 8. Thanks to her doctors and Family House, Sarah received the best possible treatment available, including chemotherapy which is only required in 1% of all children diagnosed with this terrible form of cancer. According to the Batys, treatment at UCSF would have been impossible without Family House, where they had a free, temporary home, food, friends, "and the house had its arms around us." The Batys and the Family House community have created a bond that will never go away.

Sierra Pate's Story

Sierra Pate was 15 years old in 2008 when her doctor in Redding told her she was fine, but she knew differently. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lyphoma, sierra was flown to UCSF Children's Hospital, where it was discovered she was "filled with cancer." Despite chemotherapy and radiation, Sierra relapsed twice; fortunately Sierra's sister, Heather, was a perfect bone marrow donor match. The treatment worked: Sierra is cancer free, and plans on becoming a pediatric oncology physician."I think I have a shot at a very good life."

The Pate family calls Family House "a lifesaver...a place that gives you strength and hope. They were with us every step of the way during the ups and downs of the past two years."

The Little Fighter Who Inspired Us All

When three-year-old TJ Garcia of Bakersfield started stumbling and losing his balance, his parents, Theo and Desiree, initially chalked it up to clumsiness. But then TJ started vomiting, and he couldn't stop. Theo and Desiree rushed him to the emergency room where doctors were confident that TJ jad simply caught a stomach bug. If only he had been so lucky. A few days and several tests later, Theo and Desiree learned TJ had a rare brain tumor that was partially wrapped around his brain stem. "We were floored," said Theo. "Our world was turned upside down and backwards. It was the worst."

TJ underwent a 10-hour surgery at UCSF Children's Hospital where surgeons removed "98.99%" of the tumor. The tumor was mostly gone, but TJ's speech and physical abilities were completely gone. A result of the surgery, TJ lost his ability to talk and move. "You can't prepare a parent for this --to see your once-healthy three-year-old lying in a bed helpless," said Theo. While TJ started chemotheraphy and radiation, Theo and Desiree settled into their new home--Family House. For an entire year, while TJ was in and out of the hospital, the Garcias called Family House their home. It was one thing to have a home away from home, but the emotional support they received from Family House was unexpected. "The people here are amazing," said Desiree. "When I need to talk, they listen. When my husbandneeds to talk, they listen. They're just amazing."

And speaking of amazing, back to TJ. He has certainly beat the odds--statistics show kids his age have a less than 10% chance of survival. But it hasn't been easy. TJ almost lost his battle three times (the Garcia's "little fighter" continues to "surprise us all," said Desiree), he still hasn't regained his speech, and that little piece of tumor still lingers. But thr good news--he's slowly walking. And so finally, doctors said it was time for TJ to go home...a moment that was bittersweet for Desiree. "As much as we hate being here, for obvious reasons, it's been a blessing," she said. "Family House gave us a place to go and be together as a family. I just love it here. It's more of a home to us than what we're foing home to."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Monthly Yoga

Once a month Family House has a Volunteer Yoga Instructor, Raissa Bump, come in to teach a class for the families and staff here. Yesterday I had the opportunity to join the class. We set up our yoga mats in the fourth floor living room, and for an hour escaped the "To Do" lists and stresses of the day to enjoy the calming power of Yoga. It was the smallest yoga class I have ever been to, and probably one of the most relaxing. The teacher spent extra time on each one of us insuring we got the most benefit out of each position.

An avid yoga practitioner myself, I strongly believe in the healing power of yoga. After five years of going to yoga classes on and off, I can tell you first hand how beneficial Yoga is for your peace of mind and health. The fact that Family House provides such a service to the families living here and the individuals who work here just goes to show what an amazing Organization they really are. They try to provide every amenity so the people using their facilities can feel not only at home, but at peace as they face some of the hardest battles of their lives.

At the end of your hour of yoga the teacher and students exchange the greeting Namaste, a Sanskrit word that roughly translates: "I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, of truth, of light, and of peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, We are one" ....such a place exists here at Family House.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Intern - A Brief Introduction

My name is Jill Ferguson and I am a Family House intern this summer. I have only been here a week, but it only took a day for me to fall in love with this organization and the people who work here.

(Allie Safran-Left & Me-Right)

Originally from Seattle, Washington I just finished my undergraduate degree at the University of San Diego. Last Fall as graduation was approaching I started making plans for the future. I had heard about Family House through my friend Allie Safran, who had interned here two summers ago and absolutely loved it. I loved San Francisco and had always wanted to live there for a little while, plus the idea of getting experience working for a non-profit really excited me. (See I am going to Grad School in the Fall to get my Masters in Human Rights...so non-profits and I get along really well). So I emailed Alexandra like crazy over Winter Break, and after a phone interview I was lucky enough to get the job.

While going to college the hope is that not only will we find a job after graduation, but that we will find one that we are passionate about, that inspires us to jump out of bed in the morning and makes us feel like we are doing something important with our life. This is exactly the attitude I have found in the staff here at family house. They help families through some of the hardest times in their lives, giving them more then just a place to stay, but a home and a family to turn to, to celebrate the victories, and to grieve over the loses.

Though this job is only temporary, I am already inspired by the people I work with. They give me hope for the future. They prove the DREAM does exist, we can find work that is both meaningful and fun. This is the best first post-grad job I could have ever asked for, and they have set the bar high for future employers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Best of the Bay

2011 marks the 11th anniversary of San Francisco magazine’s Best of the Bay Area party—the City’s biggest bash of the year. Known for its premier food and drink, chic crowd, and amazing entertainment, the 11th anniversary party promises to be the biggest and best yet! Join San Francisco magazine and Family House as we toast the best people, places, and things making the Bay Area the very best place to live, work, and play.

WHAT: San Francisco magazine’s Best of the Bay Area Party
WHEN: Thursday, June 30, 2011 VIP: 6—11 p.m.; Main Event: 7—11 p.m.
WHERE: City View at Metreon, Fourth Floor, 101 4th Street, San Francisco
WHY: It benefits Family House

Buy tickets at click here through Monday, June 6, and save!
VIP $175 advance / $200 at the door YOU PAY ONLY $160 (PROMO CODE: FAMILYHOUSEVIP) MAIN EVENT $100 advance / $125 at the door YOU PAY ONLY $90 (PROMO CODE: FAMILYHOUSE)

Sitting down to dinner with family and friends.
Playing a game with your brother or sister.
Getting lost in your father's hug.
Waking up to your mother's voice.

When a child in the family is facing a fight with cancer, small comforts mean more than ever. At Family House, we work to provide families with children undergoing treatment at UCSF Children’s Hospital a place they can feel at home - a place of comfort, community, and courage.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Family House runs two facilities, Koret Family House, that are in close proximity to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. Since the average length of treatment for seriously ill children is 6 weeks, being close to the hospital is critical. This ideal location helps to keep parents close during the difficult journey of caring for a sick child.

Our homes feature private rooms and common areas that include dining and kitchen facilities, family rooms, libraries, playrooms and laundry rooms. This arrangement allows for privacy in a communal living setting. Family House strives to provide an environment of community and emotional support.

What We Do..

Founded in 1981, Family House is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization providing temporary housing to families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital. Qualifying families live more than 50 miles from UCSF, and many live at or below the low-income status as determined by UCSF. Our two locations sustain nearly a 100% occupancy rate and can accommodate 107 people per night. Over the course of a year we serve more than 2,000 families.

Family House is an independent organization led by a professional staff and board of directors dedicated to providing residential services free-of-charge to qualifying families. Since we receive no financial support from UCSF, or any other public entity, we rely solely on the generous contributions of individuals, corporations and foundations.