On December 7, 2017, the Charleston community gathered to cut the ribbon on the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s new Fisher House—a day that would not have been possible without the determination and generosity of Friends of Fisher House Charleston (FOFH).
This third-party community non-profit organization, formerly called Harbor House Charleston, led the grass-roots effort to raise the $4 million to purchase the land on Wentworth Street where the house sits. After years of successful fundraising campaigns, the land was purchased by FOFH and then donated to Charleston VAMC to build its Fisher House. Eighteen months later, the ribbon was cut, and the first Veteran family was welcomed.
The support of FOFH did not stop there, this organization continues to raise money out in the community for the house, where Veteran families stay while their loved one is being cared for at Charleston VAMC and other area hospitals. That number of Veterans families served is more than 1,890 in two and a half years.
“After we raised all the money to buy the land, our focus pivoted,” said Kent Hutchison, Treasurer of FOFH’s Executive Committee. “The money we raise now helps with the day-to-day needs of the house and any special requests, big or small.”
Recently, FOFH has funded some major projects over at the house, most notably the renovation of the carriage house at the back of the property. When the land was originally purchased, the carriage house was designated as a “historical building” that had to be preserved, stabilized and rehabilitated. Even in its dilapidated state, it could not be torn down.
“We took on the responsibility to lead the effort and pay for the renovation,” said Hutchison. “We coordinated with the BAR [Board of Architectural Review] to complete the project.”
FOFH spent more than two years and nearly $300,000 spearheading the renovation project that will be completed at the end of July 2020. The carriage house will be used for storage for Fisher House operations.
Since January 2020, FOFH has funded two other major projects—replacement of the air conditioning units and installation of a generator, amounting to an additional $150,000 of donated items to the house.
“I could not have done this without them,” said Fisher House Manager Vicki Johnson. “The guests at this house would not have the same experience without [Friends of Fisher House] support.”
The Charleston Fisher House is the only Fisher House not built on a VA or military campus. The lack of space on the Charleston peninsula surrounding the VA forced Charleston VAMC and its community partners to seek alternate space for a home like this.
“Friends of Fisher House is here to help with the unique challenges of this special off-campus Fisher House,” said FOFH Board Member Butler Carson Derrick.
Outside of the large-scale projects, FOFH contributes about $120,000 during the year to help with “regular business.” These items include: linen and yard maintenance contracts, taxi vouchers, hotel overflow costs, water jug service, groceries cards, and any other one-off items that are needed.
“If a guest is lactose intolerant, it’s no problem—through our donations a volunteer can hop and go get a special gallon of milk,” said Butler. “We’ve recently purchased a couple pack ‘n play’s too to accommodate children who have stayed in the house.”
The funds raised by FOFH give Johnson the ability to meet guest needs quickly and with flexibility.
“If I feel there is something that will give our families a better experience all I have to do is ask Friends of Fisher House—and the answer is always yes,” said Johnson.
The partnership between the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC and Friends of Fisher House Charleston has been in place for years and it is the shared mission of helping Veterans and their families that allows the Fisher House to bring a home-like experience for Veteran families during a difficult time in their lives. The plush accommodations coupled with a family atmosphere bring comfort to their hurting hearts.
“I really feel that the effort between VA, Friends of Fisher House and the volunteers is a three-legged stool that helps this house run,” said Hutchison.
With three major projects now wrapped up, FOFH is looking forward to focusing their donated dollars to sustainability needs to support Veterans and their families at Fisher House Charleston.