When Lemon Bay High School students Kenny Hicks and Briana Rugama visited the Fisher House near the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, they found the experience humbling.
“(The house) felt very independent, like a home,” Hicks said. “It was amazing to go (with) the availability of being close to a Veterans Health Administration hospital.”
A Fisher House is “a home away from home” for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers. The homes normally are located within walking distance of the treatment facility, or have transportation available. There are 60 Fisher Houses located on 23 military installations and 22 VA medical centers, according to the Fisher House website.
The Fisher House, based out of Maryland and named for Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, provides temporary lodging for families at major military medical centers. Since 1990, more than 180,000 families have logged more than 4.7 million lodging days, and saved more than $200 million in travel expenses, according to Fisher House.
Hicks, Rugama and three other members of the Friends of Fisher House club went to Tampa April 29 to present a check for $1,000 the students raised over the last school year.
“We fundraise at different times during the year,” said Mary Jo Holleran, career specialist at LBHS and club sponsor. “We sold Valentine hearts and ice cream after school in the cafeteria (at LBHS). We spoke to different groups like the Rotonda West American Legion Post, Ladies Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion. The donation we received from the Sons of the American Legion helped put us over the top.”
Holleran mailed the veterans groups to see if they needed assistance. The club created fundraisers typically over the weekends and holidays.
“I hope we can meet the same goal or better next year,” Holleran said.
Hicks, a sophomore, joined the club at the beginning of the school year.
“I joined the Friends of Fisher House club because it’s a new club in school,” Hicks said. “My uncle and grandfather served in the Marines, and my other grandfather served in the Air Force.”
Hicks said he’s been active in every club function.
Rugama, a junior and club secretary, said she has family in the military and wanted to be a part of something that will help the community. She’s been active in the club since it began two years ago.
“It’s a good experience, seeing where our hard work is going,” Rugama said. “Just seeing the house and how we’re helping the families.”
Hicks and Rugama have aspirations to walk in the medical field. Hicks said he wants to be a pharmacist. Rugama said she wants to be a nurse.
For more information about the Fisher House, go to http://www.fisherhouse.org. For more information about donations, call Holleran at Lemon Bay High School at 941-474-7702.