Editor’s note: Skywrighter staff writer Amy Rollins spoke with Chris Stanley, executive director of Fisher/Nightingale Houses Inc. at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the future Dayton Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center Fisher House. FNHI will host its 15th annual “An All-American Evening” April 28 in the Modern Flight Hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force from 5:45 to 10 p.m.
What is the purpose of the “All American Evening?”
Stanley: It’s a celebration of the organization’s 28th anniversary, produced in partnership with the Air Force Association Wright Memorial Chapter and the Miami Valley Military Affairs Association. FNHI started with the Nightingale House, founded in 1990 by then-Capt. Gretchen Lizza when her son, Tony, was diagnosed with leukemia and was being treated at Wright-Patterson Medical Center. Lizza had noticed there were families from other bases at the hospital who faced lengthy stays. Some patients’ families were even sleeping in their cars because they couldn’t afford to pay for hotel rooms.
The Nightingale House served as the Department of Defense’s first compassionate care facility until it was demolished Feb. 14, 2011. Fisher House I, named in honor of residential and commercial developer Zachary Fisher, a major philanthropic benefactor for military causes, and his wife, Elizabeth, opened in May 1994. Fisher House II opened in April 2011 and replaced the Nightingale House. A 16-bedroom Fisher House on the campus of the Dayton VA Medical Center is under construction.
Can you tell us more about the new facility?
Stanley: The Dayton VA held a groundbreaking Oct. 23, and construction work is proceeding very well. The Fisher House there will be two stories, with 16 bedrooms, 17 and a half handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and 13,500 square feet. The home will be valued at $6.5 million.
The house is framed and roofed, with windows installed and brickwork being applied. Interior work has begun. We estimate the facility will open in the late summer or early fall.
What will it do for the military community?
Stanley: The Dayton VA serves 18 counties – 17 in Ohio and one in Indiana. People come from those counties as well as elsewhere when they are referred to the Dayton VA Medical Center for care. Those families will have a free place to stay about 150 yards from the entrance to the medical center while their veteran is undergoing care.
There is no hotel near the Dayton VA. We’re going to be helping a lot of families with this new house – almost doubling our capacities from what we have at Wright-Patterson AFB, where we provide 7,665 nights per year. It will add 5,800 nights to our annual capacities, for a grand total of 13,505 nights of accommodations.
The evening also serves as a fundraiser for the current and future facilities?
Stanley: Yes, it does. Tickets for the evening are $90 each, with $35 of the cost being tax-deductible. They can be purchased through me at 937-672-8724 or online at aae18.gesture.com.
“Comedy Night at the Museum” is the theme, with the headliner comic Jeff Allen performing clean, hilarious humor. Besides performing at corporate functions and fundraisers, he regularly appears on television, radio and casinos across the country. He has performed for the troops in Bahrain and on ships in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean and has starred in comedy specials on Comedy Central, Showtime and VH1.
What else will the evening include?
Stanley: To complement his performance, Elite Catering will prepare a special, all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet. All beverages are included. It’s a big, fun party, and attire is business casual or patriotic.
Both silent and live auctions of items have been donated by community members and businesses, with Jim Bucher returning to serve as master of ceremonies and Gene Kelly as live auctioneer.
Organizers of the event are still looking for donated items to be auctioned during the evening. Items may range from getaway packages, including a week’s stay on a houseboat at Lake Norris; to works of original art; sports packages; and more.
Prices for bidding on auction items go from $5 on up, so everyone has a chance to bid on and win an item. Repeating this year will be mobile bidding so people can use their cellphones or tablets; professional staff also will assist people.
There will also be a raffle for $500 cash. The winners need not be present for the drawing.
Anyone who would like to donate an item for the auction should contact me at 937-672-8724. Contributions also may be mailed to Fisher/Nightingale Houses Inc., PO Box 33871, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433.
What do the funds support?
Stanley: Wright-Patterson AFB’s Fisher Houses assisted more than 950 current and retired service members and their families in 2017 and more than 20,000 in the last 27 years, providing an opportunity for military families to stay together for physical and emotional support while undergoing medical treatment. Each year we save our guests more than $1 million in hotel costs. This annual event provides money to support the guests staying in the Fisher Houses. No taxpayer money has ever been used for the Fisher Houses’ expenses or support of the guests.
Is there anything else you would like people to know?
Stanley: With a total of 21 bedrooms between the two Fisher Houses, we have the potential to provide nearly 7,700 nights of lodging annually at no expense to the guests. Fisher Houses are homes, not hotels, where families support each other and their family members undergoing medical treatment. Fisher House – because a family’s love is good medicine. Locally, the two Fisher Houses at Wright-Patterson AFB touch lives with compassion. It’s a great way to take care of and help support our wounded, injured and ill military men and women, veterans and their families.
With the Buckeye Federal Healthcare Consortium agreement signed in May 2015 to improve the timeliness of medical care to veterans throughout Ohio and optimize the training and readiness of personnel at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center, we are seeing more veterans for inpatient or outpatient services. Now we are seeing increased usage.