Many more people—virtually invisible to the guest families—have played and continue to play a vital role in the West Los Angeles Fisher House as well. Among the most instrumental is Tim Byk, a local businessman who spearheaded the grassroots fundraising for the house.
“I’m a local guy; grew up next to the VA, and when they asked me to help, of course I said yes,” he says, referring to former Los Angeles VA Director Charles Dorman’s approach to him. “I, as a civilian, could work every day for the benefit of veterans, and I still would not have paid my debt to them.”
In four short years, Byk, starting from scratch, created a nonprofit specifically for the construction and operation of the West Los Angeles house, and it has raised nearly $3 million to date. His goal is $6 million—both to fund operations and extras for the existing house and to lay the groundwork for a second house.
And while the brand new Fisher House is functional, beautiful and welcoming, Manager Hudson is already formulating a wish list. “Some of our family members told me it would be nice to have a newspaper subscription. It would be great if someone donated a year’s supply of laundry detergent, or a coffee service; we also need folding cribs for when babies are here. We don’t have any high chairs, and we could probably use a playpen,” she says. Given today’s demands, it would be beneficial to have a computer in each suite, and, she adds, “One day I’d like to have a van, so we could provide some transportation.” She also mentions additional storage space, and an outdoor shelter for smokers.
Fortunately, as word about the Fisher House spreads, the community is embracing the cause. “People have begun calling, asking ‘what can we do,’” says Hudson. “They’ve brought children’s books, loads of DVDs; we’ve received two laptop computers so far—things that are very helpful to us. The Red Cross brought hospitality kits for our guests.”
For Tim Byk, that’s confirmation of what he’d hoped and suspected. “This house gives people some good reasons to get involved; it’s an opportunity for the community to do something for veterans.”
He thinks the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. “People can go out and buy gift cards for the grocery store, or phone cards. They can donate turkey dinners at the holidays,” he says. “I can see a high-end restaurateur coming in and teaching a cooking lesson. People don’t necessarily know how to give back to veterans. But the sky’s the limit.”
For military personnel, veterans and their families, every gesture, large and small, is noticed and appreciated. Says guest Danita Jones, “This is a lovely place, truly a home away from home. When you don’t have anywhere to go, it’s home.”