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Local Fisher House “family" works to return favor

reporters@samoanews.com
On Saturday, members of a very special “aiga” — those who have stayed at Hawai’i’s Fisher House during times of medical emergency — gathered poolside at the Tradewinds Hotel to seek ways to donate back to the organization. Cong. Faleomavaega Eni, who has been very supportive of Fisher House and their mission according to Fisher House manager Theresa Johnson, visited with the vets and their families to reaffirm his support. [photo: tlh]

Fisher House has a long and distinguished history of serving members of the armed forces and their dependents during times of medical need, and when those who have been the recipients of Fisher House’s generous care gather together, there is always a great deal of gratitude expressed.

Saturday, April 14 was no different, as a reunion of Fisher House guests took place poolside at the Tradewinds Hotel. "A great blessing".... "a godsend" ..."a refuge during difficult times" were some of the sentiments expressed during the informal meeting, where local members of the military, both retired and active duty, along with their family members, came together to talk story, share experiences, and consider ways to help Fisher House Hawaii, a place which has come through for each of them during medical emergencies, surgeries, or other times where support was needed when a family member was hospitalized.

Hawaii's Fisher House is located high above Honolulu, on the grounds adjacent to Tripler Army Medical Center. The view is panoramic, and the lawns and gardens surrounding the facility are quiet and beautifully manicured. It is there that many local members of the military have turned to when a loved one was receiving medical care. The facilities include a fully stocked, spacious community kitchen, smaller private apartments or suites for family members, laundry facilities, reading rooms, an entertainment center and exercise equipment, all shared by guests, who become themselves an extended family while they are there.

It is a "home away from home" for family members and caregivers who have a loved one in Tripler hospital, which is a short walk away.

Theresa Johnson, who has directed the facility operations there for the past five years, has been a frequent visitor to the territory, and it is her friendly and persistent approach to education and awareness which has meant the difference between hope and despair for many Fisher House guests.

She is currently on island, reaffirming the commitment of Fisher House Hawaii, and visiting with community members who have benefitted from the care facilities, which operate free of charge for the military and their dependents, caregivers and family members.

“No family pays to stay at Fisher House” declares their official website, www.fisherhouse.org,

According to Johnson, the past three years have seen a huge increase in the number of families served from American Samoa, and many members of the group on Saturday attributed this to her constant efforts to make service members aware of the facilities and the services which are offered by Fisher House.

Considering the average stay ranges from one to six months — with some guests staying as long as one year — it is an extraordinary service being rendered.

Begun in 1990, Fisher House Foundation was the work of  Zachary Fisher, an American philanthropist and building contractor who built the first Fisher House next to Bethesda Naval Hospital. He and his wife began the Fisher House Foundation by dedicating more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel. Since that time, a total of 60 Fisher Houses have been built in the United States and  Europe, always in close proximity to a major medical facility run by the military.

The Fisher House Foundation supports the building of new property, but each individual Fisher House relies upon charitable donations for day to day operations.

With that in mind, the local group discussed ways that they could help. Last year, they held a “Fiafia Night" to raise funds, where some $8,000 was raised for Hawaii’s Fisher House.

Following that, the Fono passed a resolution acknowledging Fisher House Hawaii and the tremendous aid which the facility has given to many local families.

The discussion on Saturday centered one of the easiest ways to help Fisher House Hawaii — a tax deductible donation can be made by anyone to Fisher House, and any government employee can arrange for payroll deductions through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) which begins every year in October.

Said Danny Pa’u, whose story was told in Samoa News last year, when his father was taken to Tripler hospital after collapsing on a flight into Honolulu, “Wouldn’t you rather donate that money to Fisher House, instead of all if it going to taxes?"

(Before the Pa’u family was aware of Fisher House, they had been camping out in vans on O’ahu while anxiously awaiting their father’s recovery.)

Guam, American Samoa and CNMI are all part of the Honolulu campaign, and if you want the money to go to Hawaii's Fisher House, you must specify the donation go to CFC # 71377.

The largest amount of donation money comes from the CFC according to Johnson, who noted that 97 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to the facility specified by the donor.

Johnson is here first and foremost to make sure that both active duty service members as well as retired vets are aware of the many ways Fisher House can help. Her purpose, she said, is to educate and support those families who have benefitted from Fisher House care and hospitality, and who now want to return the favor.

She welcomes questions and encourages the public to call her at 731-0656 until Thursday.

In Hawaii her contact number is 808-561-7423 or  808-433-1291 ext. 28.

“Truly, coming here and learning more about the people and the culture has been wonderful” she stated. “The love, support and hospitality I have received has given me so much insight into my job.”

It is a job she considers a calling: watching over the guests of Fisher House, where kindness, she says, is a way of life, and “a family’s love is just good medicine.”



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