Helping families with sick children is community project

Neighbors rally around residents of the Believe in Tomorrow House at St. Casimir's in Canton

July 24, 2010|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

The Canton neighborhood has discovered how good it is to give back. In the past four years, as an old convent found new life as a home to dozens of bone-marrow transplant patients and their families, Southeast Baltimore residents and business people have brought meals and love to families caught up in complicated medical treatments that stretch over many months.

The Believe in Tomorrow House at St. Casimir — just off Canton's O'Donnell Square — has become the focus of neighborhood goodwill. There, amid the community's cafes, restaurants and condos, is a complex where families can live for free while their children are receiving care at nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital. It's a place for quiet time and respite after a long day spent in clinics and hospital rooms. It's also a place that comes with a nice serving of old-fashioned Baltimore hospitality.

"Many of the families who come there aren't from Baltimore, and this is our chance to introduce them to crab cakes, shrimp and chowder," said Patrick Michael "Scunny" McCusker, whose Nacho Mama's restaurant is two blocks east of the O'Donnell Street residence.

"The real heroes are the mothers who had a kid in one arm and a pile of X-rays in the other," McCusker said.

In mid-May the family of Maria and Robert Murphy, who live in Arnold, arrived at the house. Their 19-year-old son Jacob had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia and would need lengthy treatment and recovery. Jacob's brother Matthew, 16, donated the bone marrow and the family — including four more siblings — did not want to be separated. So Amanda, 20, Cynthia, 14, Brian, 11, and Katrina, 8 — the youngest are home-schooled — moved in to help their brothers get through their treatments.

"Believe in Tomorrow is our recharging house," said Robert Murphy, a State Highway Administration engineer. "It re-energizes us to go back and do battle with the illness at the hospital."

"The meals are the only opportunity to meet outside people," said Jacob, who needs to be no more than 15 minutes away from his doctors at Hopkins. "This house has been an anchor in a really big storm."

Other givers include employees of T. Rowe Price and the state comptroller's office, as well as the Garceau Realty and Ron Howard & Associates real estate firms.

"I spent a couple of hours with the kids who are struggling, and that experience helps me put things in perspective," said Howard, the real estate salesman. "It is far different from coming home and looking at Facebook and see people complaining about their sunburns."

The house has seven furnished apartments, so families, including siblings, can stay together during the treatments and recovery. The Believe in Tomorrow Foundation also operates another home at McElderry and Washington streets.

"It is the only stand-alone bone-marrow transplant residential facility for pediatrics in the country," said Brian Morrison, the foundation's founder and chief executive officer. "Other hospitals are looking to replicate this model."

The Rev. Ross Syracuse, a Franciscan friar and pastor of the nearby St. Casimir's Roman Catholic Church, said the Canton residence had been four rowhouses joined together as the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. At one time, 25 nuns lived in what is now the Believe in Tomorrow House. The house became vacant many years ago and was used for storage and meetings of a Boy Scout troop.

While real estate values were climbing in Canton, Ross said his parish decided to sell off the four houses at $150,000. Members of his congregation also cook a meal for the families once a month.

"It was a match made in heaven," he said.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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