In January 2011, Jessica Allen received the call that her husband Chaz, a staff sergeant for the U.S. Army Special Forces, had been injured in Afghanistan. She instantly feared the worst. “I knew it was bad news,” says Jessica, who lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, with their two daughters at the time. Thankfully, Chaz was alive. But he had stepped on an explosive device and lost both of his legs and had severely broken his elbow. Three days post-injury, he was flown to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.–Jessica was on a plane to see him the next morning.
For Jessica, that was when the juggling began. Determined to spend as much time as possible with her husband and their daughters, Deryn and Ryann (now 10 and 7) , Jessica laid out a plan: Spend one week in Tennessee with the girls, and the following week in Washington D.C. at the hospital with Chaz, while leaving Deryn and Ryann with her mom. Alternating weeks seemed good in theory, but executing the plan was difficult and expensive. The army paid for her first flight to see Chaz, but she would have had to cover the plane fare after that–until she found out about the Fisher House Foundation.
Founded in 1990, the Fisher House Foundation is a non-profit that owns and provides free housing to injured and sick military members and their families near the hospital in which the service members are staying. The organization also operates several offshoot programs, including Hero Miles, where frequent flier miles are donated and then given to families of hurt service members to use. Thanks to Hero Miles, Jessica’s weekly trips to and from D.C. were covered until she and the girls moved into a Fisher House at Walter Reed in March 2011.
To date, the Fisher House Foundation has served more than 160,000 families in nearly 60 homes. “We provide a huge source of comfort and relief for service members and their families,” says Cindy Campbell, vice president of Community Relations and Media Affairs for the organization. “Fisher House provides comfort homes for everyone–including kids, grandparents, and siblings,” says Campbell.
Most Fisher Houses are within walking distance of the medical facility–making it easy for families who have traveled long distances (and might not have a car) to visit patients. Each house has anywhere from 8 to 21 suites, as well as laundry facilities and common kitchen and living room areas. “We offer that family environment,where you can spend time with other people going through the same challenges you are,” says Campbell. That’s something the Allens were especially appreciative of: The girls met and made friends with other kids living in their Fisher House, says Jessica. “Being so close to their father was crucial as we started to piece our family back together,” she adds.
Chaz was discharged from the hospital in May 2011. But his daily physical therapy session and appointments–plus the need to stay in the area until he is officially medically discharged form the Army–mean the Allens can’t go home to Tennessee quite yet. They’re now living in an Army-provided apartment, but the five months spent in their Fisher House is something they’ll always be grateful for: “Fisher House cares so much about these families,” says Jessica. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think we could have created a sense of normal–we were able to have a home away form home.” To learn more, visit fisherhouse.org.