By Simon McCormack
For many years, Kenneth Fisher said he never realized the struggles that military families experience.
"I really didn't know much about the plight of military families," Fisher said. "I was like too many others in this country who only saw the soldiers and not the families and the sacrifices they make. That had a major impact on me."
That changed when he started working for the Fisher House Foundation, started by his uncle in 1990.
Now, as the chairman of the organization, Fisher wants to help put military families in the spotlight.
"For many years, the plight of the family was something that nobody focused on," he said. "It's tough for families when loved ones are deployed because those bills keep coming and mortgages have to be paid. It becomes even more difficult when their loved ones are wounded."
Since its founding 21 years ago, the foundation has donated "comfort homes," built on the grounds of military and veteran medical centers. These homes allow family members to be close to a loved one during hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease or injury.
The military families who live in comfort houses share a bond, according to Fisher.
"Something very happy happens within the houses," Fisher said. "They support each other. They help each other become better caregivers and they help each other with the burdens."
Fisher House has won awards from charity watchdog organizations for its efficiency. Fisher said about 97 cents of every dollar given to the foundation go directly toward building homes and helping families. The group's chairman also said he uses his experience in New York City real estate to help his charity get the most bang for its buck.
"We're as streamlined as we can be," Fisher said. "I've been in the commercial real estate business for 31 years. I've been able to apply my business experiences to running a not-for-profit as though it were a for-profit."
The foundation raises money to build the comfort homes and then gives the structures to a branch of the military or the Department of Veterans Affairs, depending on the population each house will serve. Then the government assumes ownership of the homes and agrees to staff and take care of them.
"It's a public-private partnership that works," Fisher said.
Fisher's efforts have garnered praise and attention from politicians from both political parties. In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Fisher to the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, which undertook a comprehensive review of the services provided to soldiers who return home.
When President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, he gave $250,000 of the award money to the Fisher Foundation.
Fisher said it all comes down to honoring those that have served America.
"Sometimes medicine is not enough," Fisher said. "We're allowing family members to become a part of the healing process. We are honoring the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf."
To learn more about the foundation, visit Fisher Houses' website.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski