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A home away from home.

The Boston House: Hope and Healing for Children with Cancer

A haven for children with cancer and their families, The Boston House has never closed its doors, even for one night, in its 43 years of operation. Star Market has supported the work of this nonprofit through its GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.

Tell us about The Boston House.

Our official name is The Boston House: Hope and Healing for Children with Cancer. We were established in 1979, so it’s been a good long time.

Some parents who had children being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Dana-Farber, along with their children’s physician Dr. Steven Sallan at Dana-Farber, who’s still there and very celebrated, saw the need to have a space close to hospitals where they could stay. Through those volunteers, Dr. Sallan and several companies, The Boston House got started.

To this day, we have children of some of those founders who are now in their 50s or 60s on our board.

What services do you provide to the community?

The Boston House provides no-cost and convenient accommodations for children with cancer and their families in a safe and comfortable home-like setting. We truly are a home away from home, and we do everything we can to be a special place where families can be together, share stories with other families in similar situations and lean on one another for support.

Families are given accommodations, linens, Wi-Fi and parking at no cost. We also have food staples that are provided on a complimentary basis, and we have laundry facilities, too. Right now, we have a really nice fund from a donor that’s called Caring for the Caregiver, and we’ve been giving out $100 gas cards and food cards, for example. Really anything we can do to lighten the load for families is included in their stay with us.  Each room costs us a little over $46,000 per year to keep things running.

We’re a big, old Victorian house, and during Covid we haven’t been able to have families stay in the main house because they would have to share the bathrooms and kitchen facilities. Prior to Covid, we could accommodate 22 families at a time. We have a carriage house out in the back and an annex under our parking deck, both with self-contained apartments, and that is where our guests have stayed during Covid.

The extra food staples have been really critical. In a normal world, we have volunteers come and cook house dinners at least two nights a week. So then when families come home from the hospital, they have a home-cooked meal with a chance to talk with each other. We haven’t been able to do that during Covid, but we occasionally have been providing a take-out meal.

So far in 2022, we’ve had 85 families stay with us for a total of 1,698 nights. And they’ve come from 16 states and territories as well as from Canada, Chile, Honduras and Peru.

…we do everything we can to be a special place where families can be together, share stories with other families in similar situations and lean on one another for support.

What sets you apart from other nonprofit organizations in your community?

We’re the only home or facility of our kind that is just specific for children with cancer and other life-threatening hematological diseases. There are several other homes, but they include a broader range of diseases. Our hospital partners are Boston Children’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They work together on solving and curing cancer for children, and we’re right around the corner from them, so we are focused really on that.

While our name is The Boston House, we’re located in Brookline. We do a lot to stay connected to the Brookline community. As you can imagine, over those 43 years, we’ve had many volunteers, including residents and high school students in Brookline, come and volunteer for us. We try and use vendors that are community-specific whenever we can for services that we need around the house. Even some of our mailmen have been very supportive and welcoming, and I know that people at the house have a really close relationship from time to time with the person delivering our mail.

Tell us a story that illustrates the good work you are doing.

We’re a very welcoming and accepting community, and we have families come from all over our country and the world. I think this story really shows that.

Several years ago, there was a Catholic mom from Ireland who was staying with us, and there was a dad who was there who practiced Islam and was with us during Ramadan. His name was Mohamed, and Mohamed didn’t really know how to cook. He was going through such a hard time with his child being sick, and he needed a little extra support. And this Irish Catholic mom decided to cook the Ramadan break-the- fast meal for him.

We’ve had a lot of that kind of thing, where families just embrace each other and do whatever they can to help each other, even when they are facing so many challenges as well. I think the fact that we provide a safe, comfortable home away from home is very important. But we also provide families that support from each other, which I think is really special when you’re in a cozy house. Not so much right now during the pandemic, but we have a cozy porch and a living room and spaces where families can get together and talk when they come home at night from the hospital.

What is your greatest achievement or contribution to the community?

I think one of the things we’re most proud of is the fact that over our 43 years, we’ve never had to close our doors even for one night. Even when we deleaded The House, our Board contracted with a hotel where families could stay. And during the pandemic, we’ve had to be really nimble and flexible as all organizations have been.

Harlow then.
Harlow (center) now with her twin siblings.
What do you want people to know about The Boston House?

That we are providing this opportunity for everyone. All families are eligible to live and stay with us regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income level, religion, disability, geography or language spoken.

We believe that access to the best healthcare possible is the most important thing, and that can make all the difference. We believe our families need our help now more than ever because of Covid. People should know that we do everything we can to support our families and keep them safe.

People should know that we do everything we can to support our families and keep them safe.

How are you using the funds you’ve received from the Star Market GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?

We apply the funds toward our current use spending. It’s slightly over $46,000 per year to support a room, and certain of our costs, such as cleaning supplies and our cleaning needs, have increased during Covid, not to mention the overall inflation impact.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Our families are so inspiring. Where they find the strength to go through what they do, I can’t imagine. The determination and the love and the bravery and the resilience that our families demonstrate every day…it’s pretty remarkable what people will do for their children in need.

Katie Small is Director of Development for The Boston House: Hope and Healing for Children with Cancer. She joined the organization in January 2020.