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June 17, 2010 – Los Angeles, CA (CableMuse.com)
- Zachary Fisher used his life to create a legacy. Fisher created a ‘home away from home’ for Veterans
and their families to reside whilst their Veteran battled life altering diseases. The Fisher House is located quietly and
very inconspicuously behind the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital; it is one of 45 of its kind in the United
States. It is a place that brings some serenity and peace to an otherwise chaotic time in the lives of Veterans and their
families. The Fisher House provides free, temporary housing to Veterans in need of an extended stay for hospital treatment
or therapy at a V.A. medical facility.
There are 45 Fisher Houses nationwide, 18 built on military bases and 15
located on V.A. Medical Center properties. Fisher House is the ‘home away from home’ for the families of patients
who are receiving some sort of treatment. The houses are between 5,000 to 16,000 square feet and are donated by The Fisher
House Foundation to the facility on which it is built. The Fisher House Foundation was founded in 1990 by Mr. Zachary Fisher.
Mr. Fisher was prominent in real estate and had a dedication to the United States Armed Services. As a young man Zachary
was prevented from enlisting in World War II because of a leg injury. He ended up working in the construction field, which
gave him a unique set of practical skills that he was then able to put to use for the betterment of our Armed Services. Mr.
Fisher was a lifelong philanthropist and dedicated his life to saying thank-you to all the veterans who have given so much
to our country. In 1990, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher began the Fisher House program, dedicating more than $20 million to the construction
of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel. Together they forged ahead and had the first 20 Fisher Houses
built with money out of their own pockets.
West Los Angeles Fisher House was built in 2009 and is exquisitely and lovingly
managed by Sharon Hudson. She does everything from taking reservations to making sure that there is food in the refrigerator
so that a late guest will be sure to have something to eat. A full stomach is the first sign of home. She is the perfect complement
to the “warm, compassionate environment” that can be felt as soon as the beautiful glass front doors are opened.
The Fisher House is there to ease the minds of families that have to travel over 50 miles, one-way, in order for their veteran
to receive the treatment that he/she needs in order to survive. Having to find and afford accommodations for an extended period
of time is draining on families and it can overtake the true focus, namely getting their loved one the treatment they
need as soon as possible. These Veteran families need to expend the least amount of energy on distractions and focus on their
crisis at hand. Their complete attention and energy should be placed on getting their veteran healthy and back home, as quickly
as possible. Mr. Fisher understood that Our Veterans do get lost in the shuffle that is the government. We have to make sure
to take care of those that have taken care of us all.
As soon as the beautifully arched glass doors of the West L.A. Fisher House are opened, peace
and awe consume the visitor. Guests are required to use their security keycard to open the doors; a measure put in place to
keep the entire house safe. A sunlit hallway first leads you to the warm and inviting living room where the cream colored
walls and crown moldings make you just want take a donated book off the shelf and just relax. Across from the living room
is the home’s dining room, which makes you feel like you stepped into a design magazine. At the end of the hallway is
a bronze bust of Mr. and Mrs. Fisher with their message:
THIS GIFT IS DEDICATED
TO OUR GREATEST NATIONAL TREASURE, OUR MILITARY SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN AND THEIR LOVED ONES
The state of the art communal kitchen has handicap accessible appliances
and enough refrigerator and cabinet space in the kitchen to accommodate each of the 21 rooms by allotting each room its own
space. Families are able to create their own specialized menus and eating schedules. They are able to control a little part
of their chaos. Attached to the kitchen is the communal laundry room with multiple washer and dryers.
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Anchoring the kitchen is the family room,
where you may see Fisher House families sitting and enjoying their time together. The guestrooms have the amenities of a top
hotel with special attention to veteran needs. All rooms have their own handicapped accessible private bathrooms and showers.
The beds are assigned depending on need; for wheelchair guests, there are beds lower to the ground for easier access. There
are adjoining rooms in case a family has more than one veteran in the hospital for treatment. All the rooms have internet
access and computers so that family members can still be connected while going through their trials. The Fisher House gives
military families as much of the feeling of home as possible. It is all done through the hard work of managers like Sharon
and her volunteer staff that keep the place running smoothly and safely.
Since the West L.A. Fisher House was opened; they have helped over
800 families and saved the families $1.1 million in hotel expenses. The savings did not include the food, laundry, and transportation
costs. There is no better way to say thank you to the veterans than by taking care of their families in their time of need.
The Fisher House has provided families a support group made up of other
families going through the same sort of fearful and helpless feelings. They are able to talk with, cry with, and, most importantly,
laugh with people that completely understand what they are experiencing. This is the magic of the Fisher House. It allows
people from all different walks of life to know that they are not alone in their struggles and pain. Listening to families
that continue to go through so much, keep such an uplifting attitude shows the power of people and the human spirit. Mr. and
Mrs. Fisher knew the power that people had, so they gave us a way to come together.
The magic of The Fisher House is exemplified by Kay Woodworth and
her husband Bruce. Bruce Woodworth, a Vietnam War Navy Veteran, had over three tours of duty. Bruce was a manager at
a water park when he was diagnosed with spine cancer. Since his diagnosis he was laid off. Bruce was referred for
radiation treatment for cancer at the West L.A. Veterans hospital. His radiation treatment regime was going to last 3 weeks,
so they made sure to pack enough food and clothes with them to last that long. They were told that since they were being referred
to treatment they would also have a place to stay. They were also able to bring whatever supplies that would make them comfortable. Bruce's
radiation treatment made his eating habits askew. He would have to eat small portions of food at odd times of the day and
night. Kay needed somewhere that would have a kitchen for her to use and also be flexible enough to let her cook when she
needed. The couple made their journey from Angelus Oaks, CA (near Big Bear) to Los Angeles.
The Woodworths arrived to discover their referral never went through. They were absolutely
stuck and helpless. They had 3 weeks’ worth of food and clothes just sitting in the car with nowhere to go.
They were not prepared mentally or financially for the obstacle just dropped in their laps. The V.A. offered to put
them up in a hotel until their referral was processed; this solution still required a commute and no kitchen would be available.
Kay called Sharon Hudson, manager of the West L.A. Fisher House, crying
while literally sitting in her car full of supplies. Without hesitation, Sharon told Kay that she had a room waiting. Kay
and Bruce walked into their new temporary home and met their new family. According to Kay, they ended up in a place beyond
their wildest imaginations. They were in a place where they are completely supported by people going through the same things
they were experiencing. They were able to bond, share, relax, laugh, cry, and most importantly focus on getting better. All
this was possible because The Fisher House became their home away from home.
Every Fisher House is a gift. The Fisher House is built collaboratively
by the Fisher House Foundation and in this instance, the West Los Angeles V.A. Medical Center. Each side funds half of the
money necessary to build the Fisher House. Once it is built the Fisher House Foundation gives it as a gift to the V.A. Medical
Center property. Once a Fisher House is built, funding becomes a challenge; it is not a federally funded institution. They
rely on extremely low overhead and donations. Sharon Hudson runs the entire West L.A. show. Sharon is helped by a small group
of volunteers that do not all come to work at the same time. There may be few volunteers but they are all dedicated to keeping
the Fisher House the dream that the Veterans and their families deserve.
Author’s Personal Note of Thanks: All our Military Veterans and their Families; West L.A. Veterans Administration Hospital; Sharon Hudson,
Manager West L.A. Fisher House; Nikki Baker, Associate Chief, Public and Congressional Affairs; Kay,
Bruce, Charlie, Larry, Paul, Edgar, Michelle, and all the families of the West L.A. Fisher House, you guys made this article;
my mom for putting the idea in my head and my dad for being 100% veteran.