Ron Hewitt cleans paint from his hand as he sits down. At Jeneece Place, even the president of the Queen Alexandra Foundation helps with finishing touches.
The home-away-from-home for families of sick kids at Victoria General Hospital is a few days from opening its doors. Airy, spacious and decorated in original, hand-carved First Nations art, the house is only 250 metres from the hospital doors, but feels a world away.
“Everyone has pulled together for Jeneece Place,” Hewitt says. “The great thing about this project, it’s so community in nature, there’s been so many contributions.”
Indeed, the flood of donations in the past few years has allowed the house to open its doors only four years after Jeneece Edroff, a teenage fundraising dynamo battling a rare genetic disease, envisioned a Ronald McDonald House-type facility for Greater Victoria. In 2008, the busy “penny girl” needed a new project after raising more than a $1 million for Variety-The Children’s Charity.
That vision has become a reality. The QAF has managed the project and donated $1 million, as did Telus and the Norgaard Foundation, and the Vancouver Island Health Authority donated the land at VGH.
Durwest Construction donated a project manager, and ERB Technical contracting convinced all the trades and subcontractors to donate materials and cut prices.
Hewitt says the project has received 2,200 separate donations to date from service groups and individuals, “everything from kids donating birthday money to corporations giving thousands.” In-kind donations have hit $1 million.
“It’s been a really successful fundraising effort. People have been so inspired by Jeneece and the cause,” Hewitt says. “People relate that people may come here (to Victoria) with no place to stay. That struggle has inspired a lot of donations.”
Jeneece Place is budgeted at $5.5 million, which includes construction and 10 years of operating funds. The Jeneece Place website indicates $4 million has been raised, but the grand total will be announced at the grand opening ceremony on Friday.
A cross between a mansion and a country lodge, the polished, three-level, 10,500 square foot home has 10 bedrooms, each with a washroom, and a vast double kitchen and dining area. A David Goatley portrait of Jeneece hangs above the fireplace.
The lower level is decked out with games, kids toys and an impossibly large television in the media room. The backyard has a kids playhouse, barbecues and areas for adults to relax.
“The object is for Jeneece Place to feel like a house, not an institution, a place where people can come and stay,” Hewitt says. “Jeneece wanted a comfortable place for parents to relax, to feel safe, to call home.”
Beacon Community Services will manage and clean the house, which will be staffed around the clock.
QAF is offering public tours of the house over the weekend, and the first family could be in Jeneece Place as early as Monday. “We want to get on with the job of serving families,” he said. “We know there are families here (who need help). We want to get them in.”
Jeneece Place is expected to fill up fast — with a constant stream of kids in the pediatric care ward and infants in the neonatal intensive care unit, vacancies aren’t a worry. What could be a worry is managing and prioritizing stays if the need is beyond 10 families.
The VGH pediatric ward has two overnight rooms, which has helped Jeneece Place officials gauge how many parents might stay and for how long.
“Hospital staff have been very helpful. They have developed protocols of how long people can stay,” Hewitt says. “We are hoping the capacity of the house will meet the need. We don’t know yet.”
Public tours of Jeneece Place are scheduled for Jan. 21 and 22, noon to 4 p.m. See www.jeneeceplace.org or www.queenalexandra.org for more information.