Karen Alley serves up come of her coffee cake at the Fisher House. She bakes to relieve stress. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News
Karen Alley serves up come of her coffee cake at the Fisher House. She bakes to relieve stress. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

VA Augusta Fisher House provides safe stay for families of veterans

(Featured image – Karen Alley serves up come of her coffee cake at the Fisher House. She said she bakes to relieve stress. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)

Karen Alley hasn’t been to her Virginia home since Nov. 21, 2022 — the day her husband of 60 years passed out and fell down 14 stairs, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

 After hospital stays at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., and the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, he was transferred to the spinal cord unit at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center on Feb. 8.

 And Alley found a haven at the VA Augusta Fisher House on the campus of the hospital’s uptown division off Wrightsboro Road.

 “When I found out that I was coming to the Fisher House, I thought it would be some little old house they let people stay in, and when we pulled up from the street and I saw it, I was in awe,” she said.

Constructed through the Fisher House Foundation, the 16,800 square foot home was gifted to the Department of Veterans Affairs on Oct. 5, 2011. The home has enough space to accommodate up to 20 families, who stay free of charge.

“This has been a lifesaver for me,” Alley said. “This has been home away from home. I know that is a cliché, but it is truly home away from home. I’ve felt warm, welcomed, safe, secure, loved, all good.”

And that is the goal of the house’s small staff of three — to give veterans’ families a place to stay freeing them from added worries.

Courtney Deese (seated) and Joy Jones, outside the VA Fisher House. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“This is a 24-hour operation,” said Courtney Deese, house manager, who along with assistant manager Joy Jones and Rosemary Clark, staff the house. “We provide for these families whatever they need during their stay — dinners, transportation. We want them to feel comfortable.”

 Many of those staying at the Fisher House have family members who are receiving long-term care such as patients in the spinal cord unit, who also go through rehab there. Families come from all over the country.

 Although Fort Gordon has its own Fisher House, it’s much smaller than the VA one with only seven suites. The VA house sometimes provides lodging for families of active-duty service members who are receiving medical care off post.

Deese said last year, a soldier received cancer treatment at Augusta University, and the family stayed at the Fisher House.

It just made more sense, she said, because it was closer for the family.

More than 90 Fisher Houses have been constructed in the United States and Europe since 1990. Builder Zachary Fisher and his wife, Elizabeth, pledged $20 million for comfort houses for military families. These homes provide private bedrooms and bathrooms plus large common areas. They are located near military or VA medical centers.

The VA Fisher House Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

 Alley said she spends most of her time in the Fisher House kitchen, where she often bakes as a stress reliever and meets with other family members.

“The people that I have met here we are all on the same journey, and it’s interesting in the evening when we’re all in there fixing our meals, talking about our day and how our loved ones are. It really helps to share and hear stories of other people and their hurt. I’ve met some wonderful people that will be lifetime friends,” she said. “You just can’t say enough.”

COVID impacted the Fisher House, and it’s slowly making its return to its pre-pandemic state. During the height of COVID, fewer family members stayed, and volunteer involvement was curtailed.

But things are coming back according to Deese.

 “Our main mission is to increase occupancy. We want to stay full,” she said. “We’re up 88% in occupancy over last fiscal year at this time.”

Veterans’ organizations, individuals, churches and businesses such as Publix and Starbucks are regular supporters.

 “We have recurring needs – bottled water, paper towels, frozen meals, soft drinks. We want to keep the refrigerator stocked,” said Deese. “We’re very fortunate. We have sponsors and partnerships.”

 Some volunteers provide meals for the families staying there, and that has a great impact, she said.

 “It’s one of the best things. After being in the hospital all day, they are exhausted, and just having a meal, something to eat, is just phenomenal,” she said.

To learn more about volunteering or donating items for veterans’ families, email at Courtney.deese@va.gov or joy.jones@va.gov or call (706) 729-5773 or (706) 729-5776.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for more than 35 years. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Sign up for the newsletter 

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