New Fisher House Dedicated in California
More than 400 veterans, families, community groups and VA employees attended a ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 19 in celebration of the new Fisher House at VA Long Beach Healthcare System. The 14,000 square-foot Fisher House will house up to 16 families a night.
Fisher House Southern California Inc. was established four years ago to meet the funding requirements for a Fisher House at the Long Beach VA. The group is focused primarily around the Rotary and members of The American Legion, who decided as leaders in the community to take a hand in making the home a reality.
A $3 million goal was set and raised, and then matched by the Fisher House Foundation, which has helped build 70 similar houses at other military and VA hospitals around the world. This model is referred to as a three-legged stool that collaborates the national foundation, a local group and the military or VA property that provide the site and take over operations once a facility is built.
By the end of the year, Fisher House Southern California will have collected all of the pledges necessary to make the final payment for construction cost. “We are concluding our capital campaign on this house,” said Fisher House Southern California President Steven T. Kuykendall, a former congressman, retired Marine Corps captain, and a life member of Legion Post 496 in Long Beach. “We’re then shifting over into this broader mission of reaching four different houses from Long Beach to San Diego, and helping them be nice, comfortable places to stay.”
For the past 25 years, the Fisher House Foundation has supported America’s veterans, military personnel and their families in a time of need. This program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships military service imposes on families, and it meets a humanitarian need beyond what’s provided by the VA and Department of Defense. Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, the Fisher House Foundation helps provide “comfort homes.”
The Fisher House program serves more than 25,000 families worldwide every year, and has provided more than 5.8 million days of free lodging to family members of veterans and servicemembers since the program started in 1990.
Since the Long Beach Fisher House was dedicated, the VA is now in charge of the home. In addition to electronic door locks and security systems, the home has functional needs like bedding, linens and kitchen supplies. Kuykendall said after the house is complete with landscaping, furniture, appliances and more, “there is a list of ongoing ‘nice to have’ things that make it a little more comfortable and that’s what we will assist on.
“There’s some things you need in the house that are not necessarily a part of building it and furnishing it. If you are going to turn it into a hospitality location like a hotel, you need things like a baggage rack in the closet to set your suitcase down on. You need coffee…. We’ll buy detergents and things so people can do their laundry. We’ll get them magazine subscriptions; we’ve got that in place.”
Lana Toenjes, who previously managed the Fisher House at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Florida, is the new VA Long Beach Fisher House manager. “I will do whatever it takes to keep the house up and running and make her a home,” she said. An additional five employees will be joining her on staff.
Fisher House Southern California will coordinate with volunteer groups like The American Legion to help maintain the home.
“First we work with the Fisher House managers to see what support they need,” said John “Mike” Lipscombe, a member of Newport Harbor American Legion Post 291 and a Legion liaison on the Fisher House Southern California board. “What sort of things should we go out into the neighborhood and try to drum up support for? We’re not focusing on the house itself; we’re trying to get the people in the neighborhood to embrace the Fisher House as their own.
“Once the guests start moving into a Fisher House it’s very much like a family. If you have a veteran or a serviceperson who is undergoing treatment and you’re in the house with half a dozen other families whose loved ones are going through the same thing, you really build a family. We just really need to support their needs and then work with the other house members who are their support group.”