Illinois' only Fisher House reopens doors and hearts to the community
Illinois' only Fisher House invited community members to explore the "home away from home" for veterans and families on June 28 during its first open house since 2020.
Located on Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital's campus, the Fisher House provides free hotel-like lodging for veterans and their families receiving medical treatments at Chicago-area VA medical centers who don't live nearby.
In April 2020, the facility closed to non-guests and reduced the number of lodgers due to pandemic safety restrictions, but returned to full capacity in 2022.
"It's very nice (having everyone back)," said Holly Wright, Fisher House manager. "It makes us a home again. When we didn't have a lot of families staying here, it was too quiet."
Wright has managed the 20-room facility since it opened in March 2010 alongside assistant manager James Cooks. She estimated more than 14,000 families have stayed at Hines VA's Fisher House over 13 years.
"The goal is for families to have a safe, comfortable place to come stay," said Wright. "That way, they are able to provide that support to their veteran and get them better so they can go home."
Throughout the open house, visitors toured the 15,000-square-foot facility. Past lodgers also arrived to remember Fisher House's help, including Anita Stegall of La Salle.
"Fisher House is home away from home," said Anita.
Anita's husband, Richard Stegall, was a Navy veteran diagnosed with service-connected multiple sclerosis (MS). She explained that the couple came to Fisher House for the first time 12 years ago, lodging approximately 10 times a year while the bed-bound Richard received care.
"Over the years, I have watched a father get robotic legs so he can play with his son. I have watched people get their first kidney transplant set up. And I have also watched people that I love very much pass," Anita said. "We're family here."
Richard passed in November 2022, and Anita said her Fisher House family attended his funeral for support.
"Holly and James came to my husband's funeral even though it was two hours away. They held me up, as they do every family here, and I don't know what I would do without them these past 12 years."
The nonprofit Fisher House Foundation maintains a network of facilities at VA medical centers and military bases across the United States, serving more than 400,000 families since 1990, according to the foundation. VA employees maintain the facility along with community volunteers.
"I just think it's a wonderful place to be a part of," said Cheryl McCarthy of Downers Grove, a Fisher House volunteer for 10 years, "I've met some wonderful veterans and their families who have been here."
Wright hoped their fully reopened doors will start the next chapter for Illinois' Fisher House.
"When we had (COVID) restrictions, that was hard for the veterans and their families," Wright said. "So, when those restrictions were lifted, and we were able to go back to full capacity, families could return to supporting their loved ones at the bedside. It really made a difference, not only for us but for them as well."
To learn more about Illinois' Fisher House, or to volunteer, call (708) 202-7154.