Refuge in the storm

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Fair Haven Foundation provides place to rest for people in most trying times

Doris Townsend, left, sits with daughter April Brown, center, both of Evansville, with Amanda Milner at a Fair Haven apartment. Brown is being monitored at IU Health for a high-risk pregnancy after her neck and pelvis were crushed in a car accident. (Photos by Jordan Fisher)

For more than 5,000 nights, Fair Haven Foundation has provided a roof and a bed for cancer patients enduring some of the most trying times of their lives.

Founded by Fishers resident Amanda Miler, 41, herself a cancer survivor, Fair Haven offers free, temporary housing and support for out-of-town and in-need families and patients of IU Health University Hospital and IU Simon Cancer Center inIndianapolis.

“We want people to know they’re not alone,” Milner said.

Hawkins

A $39,000 grant from the IU Health Values Fund allowed Milner to pay for rent and utilities for three apartments in 2008, Fair Haven’s first year – a year in which Milner said the nonprofit provided just less than 400 nights of free housing to cancer patients.

Now with six apartments, Fair Haven operates with a $150,000 annual budget and a waiting list that keeps every bed filled.

“We know that every apartment we open up, we’ll fill,” said Fair Haven volunteer Karen Hawkins. “Our waiting list doesn’t even begin to touch the need out there.”

 

Divine inspiration

“It really started when I had cancer when I was 30, and was a single mom at the time,” Milner remembered. “It was really challenging, and I felt God was there for me through friends and family.”

While living in Texas, Milner discovered Hospitality Apartments, a nonprofit which provides free housing to families and patients in need receiving treatment at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. The organization was founded and supported by Bering Drive Church of Christ inHouston.

“They pooled their money together and converted an old army barracks to let patients stay for free,” Milner said.

Beginning with four apartments, Milner said Hospitality Apartments can now house 46 families, and operates debt-free with the support of individual and group donors.

“I was inspired by that,” Milner said. “One day when I was praying, I felt like (God) impressed upon me he really felt connected to these people who were sick and coming for help, and this was something he wanted me to do.”

Milner knew something of their struggles as well. Now 10 years in remission, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer which attacks the lymphatic system, spleen, liver and bone marrow. Along with obvious physical and emotional effects, Milner said the financial toll of disease can be devastating – both from the direct cost of treatment, and the indirect loss of income caused by weeks and months away from work.

“Most of the time, people who are getting bone marrow transplants have been fighting cancer for years,” she said. “When they come, it’s often for months.”

Fair Haven’s mission is to alleviate at least some of that financial burden so patients can focus on their treatment.

“If you’re recommended for transplant, the timing is critical,” Milner said. “If people can come and have a place to stay and begin outpatient treatment, that can be lifesaving.”

 

A place to rest

Each apartment has a guest book, shown, where residents record their stories.

“When guests arrive in the midst of this very difficult time, they arrive at a place of rest they don’t have to pay for, and with a welcome basket for them,” Milner said. “I just feel like I have such a wonderful job. I feel so blessed, because I get to hand the patients the keys. You know when you see someone in distress and your heart goes out to them … it feels great to be able to hand them something.”

Fair Haven pulls residents from around the nation who come to IU Health hospitals; patients of all ages, patients who are children and patients who have children of their own – like a 28-year-old mother with three children staying at one of the nonprofit’s apartments while she undergoes treatment for a brain tumor. Patients are referred to Fair Haven by social workers like Angela Harrison, who works with the IU Health bone marrow transplant program.

“Fair Haven offers the family some financial peace so they’re not paying for 30 days of lodging on top of medical bills to stay locally,”Harrisonsaid. “Also, their immune system is so compromised that if something happened, they need medical care immediately, not three hours later. Fair Haven allows them to have a home near the hospital, so they have access to care if they need it.”

Though there is great need for Fair Haven, Hawkins and Milner said the organization also takes a great amount of effort and support, both from within and without. Individual, corporate and church donors have contributed financial support, with some even sponsoring apartments. And Fair Haven is a second full-time job for both Hawkins and Milner, who say they work on it “before work, on breaks at work, after work and on the weekends.”

“This work is not done without support,” Hawkins said. “First, financial support. But we’d also like church support. We know prayer is a powerful thing. We also want their (the churches’) help in serving these apartments.”

Hawkins and Milner commend their donors, sayingIndianaresidents and businesses have a “generous gene.” They hope support will continue to grow along with the need for their service.

“The one thing we know is: Six apartments are not enough,” Hawkins said. “Organ transplant patients need a place to stay. Other patients need a place to stay. The only way for us to expand to fill those needs is with partnerships.”

“To me, the Fair Haven Foundation is just a godsend for people to have medical peace of mind, financial peace of mind, during a very stressful period of treatment,” saidHarrison. “With all the families I’ve worked with, they say having that peace of mind to have Fair Haven to come home to is a wonderful thing.

For more information about Fair Haven Foundation, visit www.fairhavenfoundation.com.

 

One patient’s story

The Buntings

Justin Bunting received his diagnosis April 1, 2010: stage 3 testicular cancer.

He was 24 years old and expecting a second child with wife, Kim. Of the one-in-250 men who will develop testicular cancer in their lifetime, Bunting was the one. The irony of receiving his diagnosis on April Fools’ Day wasn’t lost on him, either.

Bunting was referred to IU Simon Cancer Center, where he would receive high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant treatments to combat the cancer. His prognosis was good: The success rate for testicular cancer treatment is around 90 percent if it hasn’t metastasized. The dilemma came for the Buntings in two forms. First, because of Justin’s illness and Kim’s pregnancy, their income came almost solely from short-term disability. Second, the Buntings live inButler,Tenn.– nine hours away from IU Simon Cancer Center inIndianapolis.

“We didn’t know what we were going to do if we hadn’t found Fair Haven,” Bunting said. “I was out of work for 11-and-a-half months, my short term disability had run out and my wife was pregnant when I found out. Thank God for Amanda and us finding her, and her helping us.”

Two days before leavingTennesseeforIndianapolis, Bunting said they received a call telling them they’d have a room to stay at Fair Haven, free of charge.

“And that relieved a whole lot of stress,” Bunting said.

Now cancer-free and back in Tennessee with Kim and their two children – daughter Hailey, 6, and son Hayden, 1-and-a-half – Bunting says he can’t imagine managing two months of near-daily doctor’s appointments in Indianapolis without Fair Haven’s help.

“I went through so many organizations, and nobody would help us,” Bunting said. “Amanda was the only person who actually helped us find somewhere to stay and took the stress off. Fair Haven is the best organization we ever talked to.”

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