Many wishes are granted with Children's House

November 23, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

A couple of years ago, Baltimore developer Stewart Greenebaum watched gloomily as his dream of building a home for the families of desperately sick children at Johns Hopkins Hospital began slipping away.

After designers and other advisers had finished examining his original idea, what Mr. Greenebaum envisioned as a $1 million job had ballooned into a $2.4 million project. Where Mr. Greenebaum was going to find those extra dollars was beyond him.

A waitress provided the answer. She had served tables during one of Mr. Greenebaum's fund-raising speeches. Afterward, he recalled, she sought him out.

"She said to me, 'I don't have any money' -- she had to scratch for every dollar she made -- 'but if you let me, I'd like to come clean your building for free when it's done.'

"That was a divine inspiration for me," said Mr. Greenebaum, a board member of Grant-A-Wish, the foundation that provides gifts and services to critically ill children. "It told me immediately what I had to do. She was giving me that which she could give. That is only way the Children's House could be built."

And that is the way the cheery, three-story house at 1915 McElderry St. -- just one block east of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center -- was built.

More than 300 companies contributed workers or materials -- including all the bricks, dry wall, plumbing, carpets, and furniture. More than 3,000 people volunteered their time and labor.

"It was," said Mr. Greenebaum during yesterday's dedication, "an old-fashioned barn-raising."

Many of the volunteers were on hand yesterday to celebrate what they had done together. One of them, Frank Clements, smiled broadly as he gazed up at the brick house. In January, while at Johns Hopkins, where his 9-year-old son William was undergoing chemotherapy, Mr. Clements ran into Brian Morrison, Grant-A-Wish's executive director and manager of the Children's House project.

Mr. Morrison asked if Mr. Clements, who owns a landscaping business in Brunswick, could do the planting outside the house.

Grant-A-Wish had once sent Mr. Clements' family to Disney World, and during one of William's stays in the hospital, the Clementses had lived at the Ronald McDonald House across town.

"I remember how much we appreciated everything that was done for us when our boy was sick," Mr. Clements said. "It just seemed like we should give something back."

William died in April, but Mr. Clements didn't forget his promise. Last weekend, he brought a crew to the house and planted rhododendron, azaleas, daffodils, and pansies, as well as a few trees.

Many other contributors also have had tragedies or near brushes.

At less than three months, Mark Gaulin's son needed cranial surgery at Hopkins. With those memories in mind, Mr. Gaulin, owner of a roofing company in Jessup, spearheaded the donation of materials and labor for the construction of the roof.

Another couple, Steve and Cheryl Wilhide of Ellicott City, are planning to donate all of the draperies to the house. The couple's oldest daughter, Sarah, died at age 3 in 1989.

Others, who can only imagine the experience of losing a child, also were drawn to the project.

Two men showed up one day to help install the kitchens and never left. Members of the Steelworkers union arranged for the contribution of all the steel and getting it erected. The elevator union provided the elevator and installed it.

Jerry Risso was laid off from his job as a heavy equipment operator about a year ago. Since then, he has been a regular on the carpentry crew at the house.

"Working on this just makes me thank God that my kids were healthy," said Mr. Risso, who is called "Sarge" by other workers, his rank in the Air National Guard. "There's always people worse off than you think you are."

The house was the brainchild of Mr. Morrison and Joanne Rule, an assistant director of social work at Johns Hopkins. But it was Mr. Greenebaum who propelled it toward reality when he, his wife, Marlene, and two of their friends, Richard and Paula Poteet, contributed $800,000.

Johns Hopkins also donated the space and demolished the former building.

"This house," said Ted Chambers, administrator of Hopkins' Children Center, "will provide a place of comfort and solace for parents. Those folks have enough to worry about without having to worry about being in a strange city and a frightening environment. Here, they will have a place that exudes comfort and warmth."

The house has 18 large bedrooms and two airy kitchens. On the first floor is a children's library and living rooms. The basement has a spacious playroom with a growing supply of toys and meeting rooms for support groups.

In about 10 days, the house will be open to families who will be asked to pay $15 a day for lodging and meals. The fee will be waived if the family can't afford it. Unlike similar homes, the house will be available for families when their children have been released from the hospital.

"Sometimes, parents don't quite feel ready to care for their children themselves right away," said Mr. Morrison. "This will be a place where they can get accustomed to changing test tubes and dressings and to reading monitors before they're home alone."

The house will have a full-time manager as well as a social worker. Parents will be issued a beeper so they can be paged whenever needed by the hospital staff.

Mr. Greenebaum said the house is expected to operate at a cost of $125,000 a year. The hospital has agreed to absorb $50,000 of that amount every year. Mr. Greenebaum says he will be responsible for the rest of the debt.

"I feel," he said, "enriched by this entire experience."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.