Sunday, September 27, 2009

Children with Families in Turmoil

The social worker on the phone said, “I have a situation which needs your attention. I’m not sure anyone else can make a difference.” My response, “Let’s talk.”

This social worker is a no nonsense, excellent judge of situations which can evolve into more drastic circumstances. As a social worker in the critical care arena at UVA Medical Center, she understands the tense situations which can arise. This was one of those situations.

She said that there had been a physical confrontation between members of a family in a patient’s room. The wife of the patient just had a shoving match in the patient’s room with the patient’s Mother and Father. The atmosphere was really tense, and if necessary security can be summoned to control and settle the matter.

She went on to indicate, in conjunction with the hall nurse, that the worrisome part of the family confrontation is that the wife has no place to stay and she has a four year old boy who is witnessing all of this dispute, and also worrying about his Dad. It was a setting which was giving everyone real concern, yet the Mother and child have no place to get away for quiet time and allow the child to be removed from the environment with his grandparents.

“Can you help?” she asked.

I immediately obtained a room for the Mother and the boy for that evening. The Mother was told that this opportunity was to give her time to take the boy and relax and remove themselves from the conflict of the moment.

This was one of those unexpected situations for which there is generally no simple answer or most certainly no opportunity available for temporary relief of such a stressful situation. Fortunately, a very alert social worker allowed her concerns to reach out to us as a potential helping hand, but especially for the sake of a child hearing arguments in the presence of a family in turmoil and a father in critical condition.

The flexibility to offer relief for the child was a no brainer, and because of the charity’s flexibility to assist even temporarily, I am told that the Mother was able to plan what was best for the present dilemma.

The ability to project lodging even for a temporary overnight situation can be the result of so many scenarios. This particular situation called for a social worker to think outside the box and reach out for a chance for a child to be removed from harmful family exchanges which could escalate and leave such negative memories, especially with a parent at death’s door.

Interfaith Humanitarian Sanctum is that opportunity for UVA Medical Center social workers to explore as a chance to assist patients and families when no other opportunity exists. Contributions, even in the smallest amounts, allow for maintaining a vital route for assistance for just such moments. Moments that matter!

Your tax deductible contribution will allow for a continuation of this vitally flexible public charity, dedicated to serving UVA Medical Center patients and families who travel over great distances, too often without adequate funds to balance for lodging, food, transportation and even co-pay assistance. Although our intent is to fill specific unmet needs for temporary assistance for this group of visitors to Charlottsville, we have allowed for some flexibility to reach out as funds allow, and assist others who are seeking to serve these same people. Sometimes there are gaps which exist when no other charitable or hospital entity can assist with immediacy, based on their procedural restraints, monetary limitations, and lack of space regarding lodging. IHS is only restrained when funds are limited. That is why your contributions are so very important, even if as little as $10-20 monthly.

Thank you for listening.


Rev. Elisheva Clegg
Chaplain Volunteer & Founding Member, Interfaith Humanitarian Sanctum

A public Charity, independent of, serving UVA Medical Center

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Did I Say That Made a 7-year old Boy Squeeze ....

What did I say that made a 7-year old boy squeeze my leg with such delight and say ”thank you,” as if he had just received a Christmas present?

What I said was, “Tonight you will be sleeping in a hotel room in town.” Why did it make such a difference to a small boy? Because he had been sleeping in the UVA Medical Center garage in the car with his Mother and 8 month old sibling. For three days!

No single incident in my experience as a volunteer overnight Chaplain at the UVA Medical Center brings home the absolute sense of contributing to the well-being of a family than the opportunity to assist this struggling family.

On that night I had exchanged words with a young woman in the elevator who inquired about entry into the garage and directions after hours. I had offered some information, and she continued on her way. Little did I know that my next summons within minutes by beeper would bring me into closer contact with this same young woman within the hour.

The beeper call from the overnight social worker requested that I come to her location. The social worker had actually tried to reach me at home around midnight, only to be told that I was the overnight Chaplain on duty, and could be reached personally in the medical center. The social worker was very happy that I was so near, for she was very anxious to speak with someone to assist her.

Upon arrival, the social worker told me about a mother with children staying in a car, and that she had just learned of the situation. The young mother had rushed to be with her husband who had been air lifted into the hospital. The patient had been without work for over a year, finally found a construction job, and on the first day had slipped off a roof and broken both hips. His wife had hurried from hundreds of miles away to be near him and with no one to immediately assist with the children simply placed them in the car and came running.

The wife had anticipated having enough money for eating, a few days in a motel, travel, etc, but the funds simply were insufficient. Hotel rooms were beyond her expectation, and she decided to make the best by having snacks and baby items in the car, so she could be near until some decisions could be made. There was no immediate family to assist. The Hospitality House with its $10/per night rate for families was not available to her since there is a restriction which does not allow children.

When the young woman was summoned, I greeted her with her baby and the little boy, and indicated that she and the children would be staying in the Holiday Inn University in town tonight, and perhaps extra nights, in order for her to refresh and collect her thoughts for a plan to return home and seek assistance for the children. This way she could return and stay in the Hospitality House without limitations.

This was when the small boy grabbed my leg, holding onto me and expressing a smiling “thank you.” This was a time when one’s composure is tested. There is a need to touch and squeeze and reciprocate, which I did; but there is also a sense of wanting to openly weep that this family, as with many, who endure such hardship on top of such stress, and silently experience the sense of nowhere to turn.

I have seen many families over the last three years, while serving in the Chaplaincy program, who rush to Charlottesville to be near a critically injured or ill family member. They are desperate to be near their loved one, often neglecting to make a plan, and far too often without adequate funds to balance their lodging, eating and travel expenses.

The social workers at UVA Medical Center continue to have my deepest admiration. They are sensitive to such situations, and sometimes only through their inquiry do they discover the tragic situations whereby families will neglect themselves and sleep in cars, waiting rooms, and literally exist on soda and crackers. It happens frequently…and this night made our role as a charity, independent of the Medical Center which can react quickly and efficiently to ease this family’s plight, such a significant contributor.

Generally, a social worker will call me at home and indicate that the UVA Hospitality House has full occupancy, or a family member with a child has arrived and they barely have enough to eat, and most certainly no lodging money. Of course the one restriction which seems to be most prominent with on-going concern is the fact that children under 18 are not allowed to stay in the Hospitality House. This is generally not a matter explored by a family member who is terrified for a loved one in ER or Critical Care. The urgency to simply get to Charlottesville is overwhelming. This person who may die is their Dad, Mom, child or closest friend.

The reality is that the UVA Hospitality House has no plans to expand; nor does the Ronald McDonald House, which assists families who have a child in the Medical Center as patients. The limitations will continue to be evident, and the need for a Interfaith Humanitarian Sanctum ( a public, non-religious, no stock, nonprofit charity with no paid staff) to BE that extra safety net. There is no other net at this time to catch these children who have come along for a very desperate ride.

Therefore, when we say that your tax deductible contribution of $5, $10, $20 or more monthly as a consistent contribution can make a difference…that’s an understatement. We have three generous hotels who allow a $50 per night rate, and presently only about 25 people are contributing to keep the rooms, food as needed, and travel and co-pay assistance available.

The three people, who are this charity, devote full time to securing the funds, working the phones, expanding opportunities, and using our personal income to make this opportunity happen. The numbers who come to Charlottesville with the needs expressed in this short article are growing and there is no reason to believe it will cease.

Consider what you can do. We promise that no one who shows up in Charlottesville in need of temporary lodging, food, travel with a loved one in the Medical Center, or a patient who needs a cancer diagnosis and can not come here for a 1-2 day stay because he or she can not afford lodging, will be left without assistance. That promise can be met and sustained with your participation.

We have a very real request: Please never allow me to look at another child and not be able to place him or her in a safe place for the night, and know that he or she is well nourished. This is generally only a temporary fix, but when it happens it is not a matter of discussion; it is urgent. I can not take these lovely faces home. I need to be able to continue to provide for these desperate times, which are frequent.

The holidays are coming; make a pledge with your children of $5 or more for each month. $5 X 12 months = $60. That’s one night in a hotel for a family and food. It only takes a few giving families with similar contributions to allow that necessary stay over of a few days for these families in need.

The stress for these visitors to our community is often unbearable. Too often their worst nightmares come true, as they plan for a life with more challenges than they have ever known. While they are here, their well-being is in OUR hands. ME AND YOU…WE ARE THE KEEPERS.

The people at UVA Hospitality House and Ronald McDonald House are the keepers also. This new charity has been established to meet the overflow when the established entities simply can not provide. These original providers have a limited number of rooms, a very real situation. Who will assist with the unmet needs? This was our question, and the answer is our charity.

Right now, I am seeking assistance for the immediate matters at hand; but our vision for the future must encompass an ability to provide a comfort zone with active involvement for those who come with inadequate funds to balance for lodging, food, travel, etc…and then learn that the closest person in their world is never coming home. This is the juncture when so much more is needed than a hotel room and meals. Much more.

Please read the Vision statement in our website ( and it will be clear that we are looking ahead to establish a real place to meet real needs. Thank you for listening.

Blessings…Chaplain Elisheva