An outstanding example of how community leadership can make a real difference in the lives of many families.
Text and Photography by John Terry | Architecture/interior design by Looney Ricks Kiss
The story begins in 2010 with the expansion of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Le Bonheur first opened its doors in 1952 and had long been the facility Memphis families relied on when their children needed medical care. The expansion brought many more patients from out of town and with them, more family members.
Supporting a child with a serious medical need while a long way from home is a difficult proposition. Housing and all of the other aspects of child care are both necessary and expensive; especially with longer hospital stays.
One very resourceful Memphian, Susan Graf, was in a unique position to both understand this need and to solve the problem. As a child, Graf had grown up quickly. Her mother was often away from home with her brother, who required special medical attention. That experience made Graf mindful of similar needs of others.
She saw that many out-of-town Le Bonheur families needed food and lodging, and that the number of families in need continued to increase. Graf decided that she could use the model provided by the Ronald McDonald House at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to provide these families emotional support, food and lodging for days or weeks at a time. She and a group of friends and volunteers started asking questions at similar family care facilities. Benchmarking best practices of the most effective facilities, they developed a concept for FedExFamilyHouse. But even the most ingenious and well-thought-out concept would go nowhere without the resources to make it happen.
This is where the most critical part of the story happens. Graf and her husband, Alan, executive vice president and chief financial officer of FedEx Corporation, brought the concept to a few of their friends and associates, including Fred Smith, chairman of FedEx, and his wife, Diane. The importance of the project was central to the fundraising effort. Because the need was so compelling and the concept design sound, many were willing to make a personal financial commitment to the project. From there, a groundswell of support from many prominent members of the community started. The effort also attracted funding from leading corporate sponsors.
The FedExFamilyHouse that stands today in Memphis’ medical district, at the corner of Poplar Avenue and Ayers Street, is the first of phase of the project. There is room on the property for two more similar structures for future expansion. The three-floor building includes 24 individual suites, four family living rooms and a state-of-the-art conference center for meetings and community events. The first floor has an inviting fireplace in the reception space, a central gathering spot and an eating area with four kitchens and dining alcoves.
This first phase of FedExFamilyHouse opened in December 2010 and has served over 5,000 families and 13,000 individuals. There is an extensive volunteer network, including FedEx and other corporate teams, area church members, university students and special groups like the Memphis Knitting Guild, who meet weekly to knit useful items for patients of the hospital and special things like the Le Bonheur Heart. This is only one of many groups that work to make the lives of the guests of the FedExFamilyHouse a little happier.
The genius of FedExFamilyHouse is the volunteer spirit that has been its guiding principle from the moment of its conception to the present. The volunteer program uses an “open source” structure for its support network. Any member of the public with an idea that supports the mission of FedExFamilyHouse can, with background clearance and approval of the management team, implement that activity for the guests. Volunteers have hosted carnival days, holiday parties, movie nights, story time for siblings, and arts and crafts sessions, and they often donate and cook food for the guests, bake treats and prepare late-night snacks … all of which the families love!
The house’s website, www.fedexfamilyhouse.org, offers a pathway for an individual or organization to have a fun and rewarding experience making a family’s day a little nicer while at FedExFamilyHouse, their home away from home.