Chris Stanley proud to assist veterans during medical care.

By Jim Bucher

Back in the day, one of the cool things being a TV news reporter here in my hometown was you learned something new every day. At least I did.

When I received a phone call from Chris Stanley filling me in on the Fisher-Nightingale Houses at various military bases around the country, to be honest, I knew absolutely nothing regarding the organization.

Boy, was I enlightened. The best way to describe them is a Ronald McDonald House for military families as a compassionate/care facility. It’s a place where veterans and their families can stay for free while patients receive medical care.

In other words, a home away from home for wounded, injured and ill military men and women, veterans and their families. The last thing loved ones need during a stressful time is booking a hotel, worrying about meals for the kids, etc.

“The Nightingale House on Wright-Patterson AFB was the first compassionate care house in the Department of Defense, opening in May 1990,” says Stanley, who now is the full-time executive director. “WPAFB received Fisher House I in May 1994 and Fisher House II in April 2011 (which replaced the Nightingale House),” Stanley says.

“At WPAFB, we have a total of 21 bedrooms and provide 7,665 nights free of charge to the guests (saving them more than $1 million annually in local hotel costs alone). But we’re more than a hotel—we are homes with large kitchens, living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms and laundry facilities,” Stanley says.

As all great ideas do this one arose from a need.

“The Nightingale House was founded by then Capt. Gretchen Lizza, who had a 6-year-old son with leukemia. Although she was stationed at the base she saw families sleeping in waiting rooms and their cars because they couldn’t afford a hotel room. She rallied the base private organizations and base leadership,” Stanley says. 

Today, there are 72 Fisher Houses at 55 locations worldwide and soon a brand new one located on the grounds of the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center. 

“There is no hotel nearby. The Dayton VA primarily serves 18 counties, but patients come from all over Ohio for treatment. Dayton was never on the list for a Fisher House located there but due to the generosity of the Greener Pastures Foundation (that pledged $1.07 million) Dayton was put on the list and accelerated. We’re working with the Fisher House Foundation to set a groundbreaking ceremony date,” Stanley says.

The plan is to open the Fisher House in 2018.

For Stanley this is his life’s mission.

“I got involved with the program in 1993 shortly after I arrived at WPAFB. When I retired from the Air Force in August 2001 I was asked to apply for the executive director of the Fisher/Nightingale Houses Inc. position. My entire career (40 years now) has been taking care of the troops and their families, so the fit was very natural for me,” he says.

Get a load of this; locally they’ve taken care of more than 20,000 families since inception. The average length of stay is 11 days, but have had families for many months and some for more than one year. And all of it is privately funded. And as far as nonprofits go this one is a tight ship.

“We are good stewards of the donations and fundraisers. Our overhead is 4.7 percent. Based on the 2017 budget and the 7,665 nights we provide annually we have to raise $38 per night/per room to operate,” he says.

The folks who use the facilities can’t say enough good things. We aren’t using last names due to privacy.

“What a blessing the Fisher House is! When stress and anxiety descend on me it is such a comfort to be greeted here by friendly, caring people. The Fishers saw a great need and filled it so that difficult times might be made as pleasant as possible. Our hearts are grateful to them for this living monument to their thoughtfulness and gracious generosity,” says Harriett S.

“We have been here for 14 days and have enjoyed every minute of our time here. We have really enjoyed the hospitality of the whole staff. Our lives have been so stressed from everything we are going through, but the Fisher House is a wonderful place that has made us feel secure and welcome. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” say Tommy and Arlene J.

Stanley tells me in the future that the sky is the limit, or heck, maybe beyond.

“Currently there are eight houses under construction (Keesler AFB II, Orlando and Charleston, S.C.), two locations recently broke ground (Tampa, Fla., and West Haven, Conn.) and two new houses will break ground in the Bronx, N.Y., in late May and another at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson II in June. There are another 25 identified as needed but not currently under construction. The network of the 72 houses provide 950 rooms per night networkwide,” he says.

For Stanley it’s all in a day’s work for our military heroes.

“This is my passion—always has been and always will be! For some people saying, ‘Thank you for your service,’ is just not enough—and I am getting to thank our service members and their families through the Fisher Houses.”

Cheers to our veterans and families. This is the least we can do. 

– Buch