Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Volunteer’s Story: Nicole Riley


          As an undergraduate student studying Psychology at USF, I enrolled in our “Practicum” course this semester, wherein each student gets the chance to volunteer in a community setting of their choosing. In looking through places where other students had previously volunteered, Family House immediately stuck out to me because I am passionate about serving youth, but had never worked with those stricken by life-threatening illnesses. Being someone who is easily taken by emotions, I felt that being placed at Family House would challenge me to be a stronger person while supporting an incredible organization that gives to the families of children in need.
          In my few months volunteering at Family House so far, I can say confidently that I have become a stronger person through those I am surrounded with when I am here. The welcoming and compassionate staff help create the home-like feel that is within the walls at Family House, and the kind and thoughtful families that stay here bring joy to circumstances that are often bleak. Combined with all the volunteers that come to keep the house safe and tidy, cook and do crafts, and offer support from therapy dogs, I’ve seen a very strong and uplifting sense of community apparent in this house.
           I have been fortunate to see many different sides of Family House, from working through the house check-list to make sure everything is stocked and in working condition for the families, to helping keep Family House connected to the greater community through social media, to interviewing families so that I can learn their stories, to attending fundraising events. One experience that truly opened my eyes to what an incredible organization Family House is occurred during a volunteer shift at their annual Cabernet for Connoisseurs​ fundraiser. Near the end of the night, during the auctioning, they held a live pledge and I watched in awe as person after person after person raised their paddles to give to Family House. Seeing a ballroom full of people jumping to give their support to Family House was evidence of what an impact they have made on the population that they are serving and of the faith that the community has in their endeavors.
          In beginning my placement at Family House, I was told by my Professor that I would have a dual role: I would be a server, but I would also be a learner. In whatever ways I can, I have attempted to serve this beautiful organization and the work that they do as a home away from home for families of children with life-threatening illnesses. Perhaps more importantly, I have been taught so much by the staff, families, and other volunteers at Family House. I have seen that it is possible to show strength and comfort and compassion during what may be impossibly hard times. I hope that I can continue to lend support to Family House long after my practicum class comes to an end.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The VanDyke Family Shares Their Story

The VanDyke's at our 10th Avenue home
Seven years ago, the VanDyke family welcomed granddaughter Justice into the world. Justice’s grandma Kim recalls that when she held her for the first time after being born, she knew something was not right. Within two days, Justice was med-flighted out to UCSF children’s hospital, for what would be the first of many years of procedures. The family would soon learn that, among other complications, Justice was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Originally from the Modesto area in California, Justice’s grandparents have been coming to Family House intermittently since that first trip to UCSF seven years ago. Staying anywhere from six days to three months at a time, the VanDyke’s have come to think of Family House as a second home. The first year was the scariest for their family; being out of their element was hard, but they say that having a place to “come home to” began to make it less terrifying.
More recently, they have been bringing Justice’s 10 year old sister Lexi to come stay here with them as well. Kim notes the relief they have knowing that they don’t have to leave Lexi behind anymore; the relief also seems to have positively impacted Lexi, who has improved academically as well as socially since she began staying at Family house.
For the kids, coming here is so nice that they often tell Kim they don’t want to leave to go back home. For Kim and her husband Tony, one of the best things about Family House is that “no matter how long you stay, you never feel like less of a person”. Admitting that her family can be proud and are not ones to take handouts, Kim says that what is incredible about Family House is the way that coming here feels like staying with friends or loved ones rather than a charity. She thinks this has been achieved because of the humble and genuine staff who, according to Kim, have “found where they belong”. When asked to describe the atmosphere here at Family House, Kim spent a moment thinking of the right words to use to illustrate how her family feels when they are here, and announced that it “feels like a big hug”.