By Nancy De Gennaro
MURFREESBORO — Not quite three weeks ago, supporters gathered on the grounds of York VA Medical Center for the groundbreaking of a Fisher House.
Much like the Ronald McDonald House that services children’s hospitals, the Fisher House provides a “home away from home” to the family members of soldiers who are hospitalized.
“We really needed something like this,” says Claire Maxwell, board member for the Tennessee Fisher House.
Maxwell’s husband, Austin Maxwell, was injured during his service in the National Guard. He was hospitalized for a time and underwent rehabilitation. But she didn’t have far to commute to be with her husband during his recovery.
Luckily, her husband made a quick recovery. Not everyone is that lucky. But that’s one of the reasons she got involved with Fisher House.
“I knew I needed to do something for the families who weren’t as lucky as I was,” Maxwell says.
Maxwell has seen the family members of soldiers who don’t live close or can’t afford a hotel.
“It’s proven that people heal better when they’ve got family with them,” Maxwell says. “But I couldn’t imagine sleeping on a cot for months upon months.”
“Right now there are people here (on the York VA Medical Center campus) who are sleeping in their cars because they can’t afford a hotel room. People bring in baskets of peanut butter and crackers and that’s all they are eating,” says Andrea Lawrence, president of the Tennessee Fisher House board of directors. “And we’re going to stop that.”
Lawrence first came across the Fisher House Foundation when she and her family sponsored a soldier in 2008. His wife was pregnant and they had a 1-year-old. Lawrence went through labor and delivery with the mother, and later helped her through the baby’s death. When the baby died, the grandmother had to travel three days via bus to get to the family.
That’s when Lawrence realized there was a real need for the families of soldiers. So she began looking around at other Fisher Houses across the country and was determined to bring one locally.
For the past two years, board members have been collecting money from various fundraisers and donations.
“We had to come up with half the money and the Fisher House comes up with the other half,” Maxwell explains. “But the minute we put the word out, people came out of the wood work.”
The money was raised and on Sept. 13, a groundbreaking ceremony was held. The facility should be open within the year.
The Fisher House that will be built in Murfreesboro will have 20 rooms with varying layouts, along with communal areas.
Food is another expensive addition to a prolonged stay. So the kitchen will be fully stocked, too. The free food not only helps with expenses, but encourages bonding between families who are going through the rehabilitation of a soldier.
A shuttle will be provided free of charge to families who must travel between York V.A. and the Nashville V.A. Medical Center.
Although money has been raised to build, continued funds are needed for the upkeep and to continue to offer services to families.
“(Families) are going to have a comfortable, safe place that’s warm when you need it to be warm, and cool when you need it to be cool,” Lawrence says.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski