“Kosciusko County feels like a second home to us” – How Hope’s Harbor is Providing Refuge for Kosciusko County Residents with Hospitalized Children
KREMC’s Operation Round Up grant helps support many worthy causes that serve residents of Kosciusko County in a variety of ways. Hope’s Harbor is one of the grantees that is meeting our community’s needs. Learn about the refuge and hope nurtured by this nonprofit in this Q&A with Executive Director Wendy Hoering.
KREMC Interviewer: Your Operation Round Up grant was used to support your homes for families of hospitalized children. Tell me more about these homes and what Hope’s Harbor has set out to do.
Wendy Hoering: At Hope’s Harbor, we provide hospitality homes, one on the campus of DuPont Hospital and another on the campus of Lutheran Hospital. Though we’re located in Allen County, we serve guests from all over the region. We provide overnight stays and so much more to families while their children are in the hospital. Our guests can stay with us in a private, comfortable, and clean room. We don’t charge our guests anything to stay with us, but we allow them to make a small donation to our organization if they’re able. Medical issues do not discriminate based on economic status, so sometimes our guests are people who have economic need, and sometimes they’re people who have economic stability.
The house on the DuPont Hospital campus is reserved exclusively for families with babies in the NICU. It has four rooms, and they stay full. The other house is our original house, which opened in 2003 on the Lutheran Hospital campus, and we have 10 private rooms there. That house is open to any families with children or infants in the hospital. When there is a room available, and there’s not a pediatric or infant family in need, we allow guests with critically ill adult patients to use our guest rooms. It’s way more appropriate for a room to be occupied than to be empty when there’s a family who’s going through tough times. While our mission and our priority are serving families with children, when the opportunity is available, we embrace anybody who needs our services.
In addition to overnight stays, we provide meals for our guests. We have incredible volunteers who come in and prepare them – sometimes breakfast on the weekends, dinner in the evenings, or sometimes they’ll just come in and bake cookies just to have warmth and kindness to greet people when they come back.
Something that’s unique about our organization is that our families are not at the house during the day – they’re at the hospital with their loved one. It’s wonderful when our volunteers come in either early in the day or at the end of the day, and they’re at the house for our guests when the guests are there and need them.
We make our house available to families even if they’re not overnight guests. For one reason or another, a family may not need to stay at the house. Sometimes it’s because they have a child in the pediatric intensive care unit who is more aware of their parents’ presence than an infant, and they don’t want their parents staying overnight away from them.
Parents who don’t choose to stay overnight can still come over to the house during the day to do laundry free of charge, use our private shower separate from the guest rooms, grab a meal, and take snacks back to the hospital. We look at how we can make sure we’re embracing families without expecting them to stay overnight because sometimes that doesn’t fit for people. We still see that as a great opportunity to rally around parents who are going through tough times.
KREMC Interviewer: How has the Operation Round Up grant helped Hope’s Harbor meet the community’s needs?
WH: We don’t charge our guests anything to stay at our houses, and we try our best to make our operations as efficient as possible. It costs approximately $110 per night per room to have that available for a family. The Operation Round Up grant goes directly to offset that cost, specifically for Kosciusko County. We do a great job of tracking where our guests come from so that we can make sure that donations from local communities are directly supporting the families who come from that community.
In 2022, we served over 1,000 individuals, which is a record for us. We anticipate that increasing, and it’s exciting to serve a lot of people. Kosciusko County residents account for more guests and overnight stays at Hope’s Harbor than any other county. Kosciusko County is our most served county, and we’re proud of that. We’re located in Allen County, but families from Kosciusko County benefit from the ability to stay close to their child while they’re in the hospital and not incur additional expenses. We feel fortunate to be able to welcome families from anywhere, but Kosciusko County feels like a second home to us because so many of our guests are from there.
We’re so grateful because Kosciusko County residents are our greatest users of services, so Operation Round Up donors can feel confident that when they give, they are directly impacting the families that live in their neighborhood. We appreciate that the people of the county recognize that and choose to give to our organization because it makes a huge impact. It’s important to us to be open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day so that whenever a family needs our services, we’re here for them. We could not do that without donors, whether that’s a grant or individuals. That’s what makes it possible.
Our guests aren’t charged anything to stay with us. In a medical emergency, the bills just pile up. Parents always take care of themselves last, and so if they didn’t have us as an option, they would often be sleeping in chairs or in their car in the parking garage. Parents need to be cared for so they can take care of their children. So, thank you!
KREMC Interviewer: How have you gotten to know KREMC better through Operation Round Up?
WH: KREMC is passionate about connecting with its community. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to be present in Kosciusko County, but what makes a community is its members – the people who do life there. During a time when those folks are unable to be in Kosciusko County, we get to know them, and we get to connect them to resources back home when they leave us.
The value of community especially resonates with us. As a temporary home for people, one of the most beautiful things we get to see as a staff is the organic community and relationship-building that happens among our guests – whether they’re from the same county, different states, or even different countries. Each of them is going through really challenging circumstances.
It’s wonderful to have families and neighbors reach out to show encouragement and support, but our guests say there’s nothing like someone who’s going through a similar experience to truly connect and feel safe about sharing some of the scariest parts of what they’re going through. While they can’t be in their home community, they’re still benefitting so tremendously from that community that occurs in a Hope’s Harbor house. If a family has the financial stability to stay in a hotel during their child’s hospital stay, they miss out on that part of it – the connectedness, the relationships, and the support. To do this for our neighbors is important to us.
KREMC Interviewer: What is the best way that our community in Kosciusko County can help Hope’s Harbor?
WH: The main way for the community to support us, especially from a distance, is by fulfilling needs from our wish list. We’re a house, so we have similar needs to anyone in their home – we need paper towels and toilet paper, and grab-and-go snacks. We go through them so quickly! It’s our goal to take any worry possible off our guests. Those tangible things make a huge difference. We want the families to have one less thing to take up space in their minds when they have to be at the bedside of their child in the hospital.
A couple of weeks ago, we completely ran out of toothpaste. Toothpaste may seem insignificant, but a lot of our guests are not planning on being whisked away to a hospital, so they’re not thinking about things like toothpaste. They’re thinking, “How can I be by my baby and make sure they’re safe and being cared for?” Those are the kinds of things we need on hand because we don’t want our guests to have to worry about them. We want to fulfill their needs so they can be there for their families.
Awareness is a huge thing for us. People liking our social media, subscribing to our newsletter, and learning about the impact that Hope’s Harbor is having on their community from our community, makes a difference for us. We’re trying to increase awareness in the region because it can be hard to reach beyond Allen County. Since Kosciusko County residents make up the largest portion of our guests, people in Kosciusko County need to know about Hope’s Harbor, whether it’s to take advantage of our services or to support us.
KREMC Interviewer: What kinds of experiences do these families have at Hope’s Harbor?
WH: We had a guest who stayed with us recently whose child was a burn victim. Burn victims have a long road to recovery, so the family, including the patient’s siblings, stayed with us at Hope’s Harbor. That’s a component of our organization - we love being there for families who have children in the hospital, but so many families have more children than just the one that’s receiving care.
With this family in particular, it was so nice to welcome the other kids into the house and be an encouragement to those kiddos, and mom and dad. We have a nice playroom at the house where kids can just be kids while they’re also impacted by the injury or illness of their sibling. Hope’s Harbor has the opportunity to embrace the entire family during one of the most difficult times of their life. That was a story with a happy ending – the family got to go home!
KREMC Interviewer: Can you tell me about the Hope’s Harbor library resources?
WH: The library space is available to our guests with resources they can gather on their own time, and computers with internet access and printers. When there’s a medical emergency or diagnosis, there’s so much mental bandwidth that’s required – whether it’s going through the insurance company or finding a new specialist because the diagnosis is more complicated than can be addressed locally. To be able to have a space of peace and comfort, particularly outside of the hospital, is something that’s valuable for families.
The hospital is wonderful because it provides the care that kids need to get better and go home, but the beeping and bright lights don’t set the right environment for parents who are trying to figure out how to do things. The library is a wonderful space to read for comfort and strategy for overcoming things as a family.
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All photos provided by Hope's Harbor.