A lifeline for families dealing with cancer, bone marrow transplants, strokes and a wide assortment of other ailments turns 15 this year.
Kathy's House is a nonprofit hospitality house founded in memory of Kathy Vogel Kuettner, a young wife and mother of three who lost her battle with a rare form of lymphoma in July 2000. Kuettner was surrounded by a number of visitors in the hospital while fighting cancer and before she died, and her wish was that her family and friends create a place where others with challenging conditions could receive the same hospitality.
One year later, on July 1, 2001, Kuettner's family and friends opened Kathy's House at 600 N. 103rd St.
At any given time, there are 25 to 35 people staying at the hospitality house, located in a quiet neighborhood next door to the St. Camillus assisted living campus. The house gives those — no matter their age — a place to stay if they or a loved one are battling an illness and are receiving care at a Milwaukee area medical facility, said Executive Director and CEO Patty Metropulos. She added many guests receive outpatient care during their stay.
Kathy's House is comprised of 18 rooms, each with its own bathroom, a couple beds, a recliner chair, television and mini refrigerator. Much of the furniture and artwork in the building was donated by area businesses, including new mattresses recently donated by Steinhafels Furniture.
The house features a number of living rooms where guests can gather to watch a football game or just relax, and a large kitchen that contains enough appliances to allow multiple families to prepare meals at once. Volunteers from the Wauwatosa School District, area churches, Girl Scout troops and many other organizations often cook meals for guests in the kitchen, Metropulos said.
Guests that stay at Kathy's House travel from Appleton and across the nation to receive medical care in the Milwaukee area. For those receiving long-term care, hotel bills can skyrocket into the thousands, Metropulos said.
While guests are not required to pay anything for their stay at the house (some stay for one night, while some stay for up to a year), many do make donations, said Metropulos. The cost for maintaining a room is $85 per day and the average donation from guests varies from $35 to $40.
In addition to accepting contributions from outside donors, Kathy's House does a large amount of fundraising to make up for that difference and pay its two full-time and five part-time employees.
More than 300 volunteers help maintain the house, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Metropulos said the house's "volunteer extraordinaire" is Lorraine Kofler, who became curious about Kathy's House when she moved to the area, shortly after her husband died.
Kofler said she spends at least eight hours every week volunteering for the house, doing a number of things like guest intake, grocery shopping and cleaning. Sometimes Kofler takes crafts made by guests — like knitting projects, for instance — and sells them at craft shows to help fund the home.
Kofler said she's worked with neighboring St. Camillus to get the residents involved; when Kathy's House was in dire need of paper products, St. Camillus residents donated in such large amounts that Kofler said she could cry.
"It's important for people in the area to get to know about things like this," she said. "When I can't come volunteer, I really miss it."
Metropulos, who grew up one street over from Kathy's House, said cancer has personally touched her as members of her family have battled the disease. She understands the importance of having a place to receive social support in addition to medical support, she said.
Metropulos said Kathy's House is much more than just a place to sleep. It's a place where patients and their families can receive the ever-important emotional support, too.
"It allows families to stay together during a crisis," she said. "We really are a family here."
To volunteer or to learn more about Kathy's House call (414) 453-9290 or visit kathys-house.org.