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VOL. 127 | NO. 116 | Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Place of Their Own

FedExFamilyHouse provides comfort for Le Bonheur patients and their families

By Aisling Maki

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So far this year, FedExFamilyHouse has served as a home away from home for more than 800 families whose children have received treatment at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis.

General manager Bridgette Askew gives a tour of the FedExFamilyHouse to Matt Closson and Bethany Crosnoe, whose newborn son Damian is hospitalized at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Last year, the facility at 918 Poplar Ave. – located a short walking distance from the hospital – brought comfort to more than 4,000 individuals, including pediatric patients and their parents, grandparents and siblings.

The patients – who are typically newborns through age 6 – have traveled to Memphis from 26 states, as well as Kosovo, Ghana and China, to be treated for a variety of conditions, from brain tumors to congenital heart problems to orthopedic issues.

The facility opened its doors in late 2010, with $2.3 million in funding provided by Memphis-based FedEx Corp., as well as substantial personal donations from FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith and his wife, Diane, and FedEx executive vice president and chief financial officer Alan Graf Jr. and his wife, Susan.

“They decided that Le Bonheur needed a place for its families to stay, as well,” said Bridgette Askew, general manager of FedExFamilyHouse. “St. Jude has Target House, Grizzlies House and Ronald McDonald House, but Le Bonheur didn’t have a house. So this was Susan’s vision. Her brother had been in the hospital as a child, and she wanted to make sure the families didn’t have to go through what her family went through.”

FedExFamilyHouse contains 24 private family suites, each with two double beds and a space for a crib, a separate sunroom and a large bathroom.

The three-story facility’s warm, home-like setting has an open floor plan, with multiple lounging areas and an elegant staircase crafted by smiths from the Metal Museum in Downtown Memphis.

A screened-in porch overlooking the courtyard features tables, rocking chairs and a fireplace; a family lounge offers space for parents to relax and watch television in earshot of the children’s play areas; and a library is stocked with books, courtesy of Barnes & Noble.

FedExFamilyHouse serves as a home away from home for families of patients at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. FedEx CEO Fred Smith donated personal money, as well as a  $2.3 million corporate donation, to build the facility, an answer to prayers for the families for whom it provides comfort. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

The entire building – one of the nation’s first sustainable, green pediatric residence facilities – is equipped with Wi-Fi, allowing families Internet access anywhere in the house.

Viking Range Corp. donated state-of-the-art cooking equipment and Williams-Sonoma donated dinnerware and cooking utensils for the building’s fully equipped kitchens.

Each family is assigned a secure pantry, including a private mini-refrigerator, to store their own food, and common pantry and freezer areas include donated food items to share.

The facility’s annual operating budget is just under $1 million. It costs about $2,400 a day to run the house, but patient families never pay to stay.

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital spokesperson Sara Burnett said that FedEx continues to provide financial support.

“But I think we’re going to continue to need to depend on donations as we go forward and the community understands the mission better,” she said.

FedEx continues to be involved in many ways. Employees volunteer their time and donate money and pantry items, and cheerful artwork created by the children of FedEx employees is displayed throughout the premises.

“FedEx is really proud and they really believe in the house,” Burnett said. “They’ve given a lot of their personal time and energy, and they’ve been working on this since the beginning. … They are the most passionate, dedicated volunteers. They just roll up their sleeves and jump in.”

Numerous other organizations in the community have also found ways to support FedExFamilyHouse. Nonprofits such as the Memphis Zoo and the Memphis Redbirds have donated tickets, church groups regularly cook meals for families onsite, and individuals donate their time and services, providing everything from karaoke nights to free haircuts and spa treatments.

On a comment sheet last week, one guest wrote that FedExFamilyHouse is “an amazing facility! We’ve had all of our previous surgeries in another state (where we live) and have never been treated with such concern. The staff at the FedEx family House treated us with such respect and made our difficult time at the hospital much more bearable … .”

More volunteers are needed to read books to children, bake cookies onsite in the kitchen, stock the pantry, host activities, and donate welcome cards, toys and books for patients and their siblings.

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