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Local haven for out-of-town families seeking medical care

Without Buffalo’s Kevin Guest House, Ronald McDonald House may never have existed.

It’s true: the international Ronald McDonald House charity, which provides housing for families of children receiving cancer treatment, was inspired by Kevin Garvey’s parents.

In January, 1972, Cyril and Claudia Garvey brought their son Kevin to Roswell Park Cancer Institute from Pennsylvania for leukemia treatment. Sadly, he passed away. In tribute to their son, the Garveys decided to dedicate a welcoming and affordable overnight/residential space for people traveling because of medical care. While the Garveys had the means to pay for hotel accommodations during Kevin’s treatment, they had been troubled to see families sleeping in the waiting rooms, or worse, their cars.

Now in operation for almost 45 years, Kevin Guest House (KGH), located near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, includes a main building with administrative offices, communal areas and guest rooms, plus a carriage house and a smaller building which holds several long-term suites.

“We bring awareness to the idea that, [when you or a family member gets sick,] you don’t always think about expenses, in addition to medical costs,” said Kevin Guest House executive director Lynsey Zimdahl Weaver. “What if someone gets sick while you’re on a trip? Could you afford a prolonged hotel stay?” Costs quickly mount for extended accommodations and/or gas for long round-trip drives.

KGH has a suggested nightly fee of $25/night; the average rate actually collected is $11 — no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay. And Kevin Guest House accepts anyone, from any hospital, of any age, with any medical condition.

The house has hosted over 54,000 guests. One of its top priorities is providing a home-like experience; in the main house, the living room has a TV, where kids can watch movies and families can relax. Out back is a peaceful garden. Communal meals are donated, planned, prepared and served by groups of community volunteers.

Some of their guests are bone-marrow transplant patients, who stay for around 100 days after being released from the hospital, so they are still close to medical care. Others are families with children who have vastly different needs.

At times the facility has had to turn guests away for lack of room, or because they couldn’t accommodate special needs like wheelchair access. The Guest House had planned to tear down the Victorian-era carriage house and erect a new building to address those issues.

Soon after the project fundraising campaign began, however, the building directly next door came on the market. “We — our board and medical partners — decided to purchase and renovate the building,” said Weaver. Fundraising, suspended during the economic crisis, restarted in 2014. So far, they’ve raised about half of the budgeted $3 million.

Meanwhile, renovations to the newly purchased property have begun; with the new addition, the organization doubles their space. “We’ll be able to serve up to 2,400 guests per year,” said Weaver.

“We’ll have four additional private suites, each with at least four to five bed spaces, plus handicapped bathrooms. There are also two new transplant apartments with at least four bed spaces each.”
“This place becomes like home,” says Weaver. “We give families an opportunity to be together, when they otherwise couldn’t afford it. There was a couple who stayed here, on and off, for seven years. After his wife passed away, it meant a lot for the husband to be able to come back and visit.”

The organization is accepting donations to support the project, which is tentatively scheduled for completion in November. Volunteers are also always needed. To help, go to Kevinguesthouse.org or call 882-1818.

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