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: