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Inn Marks 10 Years of Healing, Love and Family

By Andrea Walker Gehrke

On the Front Page...

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Children's Inn at NIH. Its anniversary theme, "10 Years of Healing, Love and Family," represents what the inn has provided to thousands of children and their families over its decade of existence.


In the early 1980's, families of sick children at the Clinical Center envisioned a place where they could stay after a long day of treatment, free of the seclusion and expense of a motel room. Persistent in making such a place reality, they joined with others who shared their vision — caregivers, community members and Dr. Philip Pizzo, former chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch at the National Cancer Institute and current chairman of medicine at Boston Children's Hospital.

Enjoying playground equipment on the grounds of the inn are (from top to bottom) Glen, Ian, Ashley, Hydeia and Ryan.

Their effort paid off. In 1987, NIH set aside 2 acres of land within walking distance of the Clinical Center for a Children's Inn. Shortly thereafter, Merck & Co., Inc. donated $3.7 million to build it. Volunteers and congressional spouses formed the Friends of The Children's Inn and raised $2 million to furnish the facility.

The inn opened its doors in June 1990 in a ceremony attended by President George Bush, and has since provided a place like home for 4,000 sick children, the majority of whom have been cancer patients, and their families. Whitney Wyland, a 13-year-old bone cancer patient, has been coming to NIH for treatment during the past 18 months, staying at the inn up to 6 weeks at a time. He and his family rely on the inn when they travel to NIH for Whitney's treatments. "Without the Children's Inn for us to stay in, it would be very difficult to face our trips to NIH," said Bryan Wyland, Whitney's father. "It is far better than having to face the isolation of a motel, especially when we stay here for weeks at a time."

Supporting the concept of family-centered care, the Children's Inn allows parents, grandparents, siblings and other extended family members to stay with the child, both to aid in the care and lift the spirits of the child.

"The comfort a family can bring a sick child can make all the difference in the child's treatment process," said Jan Bresch Mayes, director of development and public relations at the Children's Inn. In addition, the inn has freed up time for researchers. "Researchers no longer use their time looking for places for children to stay. Rather, they focus all of their time and energy on researching to advance the cure of the disease at hand," said Mayes.

The Children's Inn, established in June 1990, has provided a place away from home for 4,000 sick children and their families.

The inn provides families one of 37 private living quarters, complete with two double beds and a private bath. There are also a number of common rooms shared by families, including two communal kitchens and dining rooms where families prepare meals and socialize. "Sometimes you just want to get away from everything. Other times you need the mutual support other families can give you," said Wyland. "The inn provides the children and parents with an opportunity to form friendships unrestricted by language, race, nationality or economic status," said Mayes.

Besides the support and hope provided by the people at the inn, the setting is warm and inviting — surrounded by woodlands and beautiful gardens on the outside and drenched with sunlight from the skylights and numerous windows on the inside. "The first thing you see when you enter the inn is the open entrance with the large fireplace and overstuffed animals welcoming you," Wyland said. "It makes the children feel comfortable."

"The home-like environment, friendly atmosphere and self-help policy are the keystones supporting the philosophy at the inn," said Gil Brown, inn executive director. "We do not have plaques reminding us of the children who have not conquered their illness; rather the inn is decorated with comforting colors and natural sunlight, enhancing the warmth of the inn," said Mayes. "Additionally, doctors and social workers don't practice here. The inn is a safe haven for families."

Jacob hangs out at the sign in front of the Children's Inn at NIH.

When the children come home from a long, hard day of doctors, IV-drips and medical procedures, they are looking to have some fun. The inn provides them this chance. Younger children can play in the large playroom filled with toys and things to do while older children and adults hang out in the game room, shooting pool. There are also a number of activities that go on throughout the week, including bingo, arts and crafts, as well as visits from local groups that keep the children entertained.

Families have many opportunities to keep themselves occupied at the inn. The library and computer room offer children a quiet place to do homework or chat with their friends online. There are TV rooms to relax in as well as the 21/2-story fireplace in the midst of the living room where families enjoy each other's company or some quiet time alone. "Being away from home can be hard, but the inn makes it a lot easier," says Wyland.

Unlike hundreds of other hospital hospitality houses throughout the country, the Children's Inn does not charge families a fee to stay. Families purchase and cook their own meals and clean up after themselves. "We want families to be able to maintain some sense of normalcy," said Brown.

Operating as a nonprofit corporation, the inn works within a public-private partnership. NIH provides 18 percent of its annual $1.2 million operating budget; individuals, businesses, foundations and community organizations supply the rest. More than 35,000 people have contributed to the inn. "We are building an endowment to be self-sustaining someday," said Brown.

There is more to the generosity of the community than simply writing checks — community members contribute thousands of hours each year volunteering at the inn. The volunteer list exceeds 300. Complementing the 8-member paid staff, the volunteers are involved in everything from greeting guests at the front desk to shuttling families to the grocery store.

President George Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush help cut the ribbon to open the inn on June 21, 1990.

Presently, NIH has plans to build a Family Lodge for adult patients and their families. "We would like to see many other communities adopt a similar concept," said Brown. The Children's Inn has been a model for other new hospital hospitality houses such as the one at St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis.

Supporters of the inn have many aspirations for the future. "We are currently conducting a feasibility study on the possibility of expanding the facility to house additional children and their families," said Brown. Thus far, the inn has had only minor structural improvements. Two years ago, there was an upgrade of handicap accessibility. Plans are currently under way to switch the game room and library, and to improve the children's playroom.

If you would like to learn more about the Children's Inn, visit its web site at or call 496-5672.

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