Three years ago, Jonathan and Amber Saunders were elbows deep into a remodel of their Colorado home when they noticed the whites of their son’s eyes looked yellow. Their son, Greyson, rapidly degenerated into an immune-mediated form of liver failure and subsequent bone marrow failure. He lost all ability to make his own blood, including infection-fighting white blood cells. At the same time, massive mold growth was uncovered during the Saunders’ home remodel, and since Greyson’s treatments lethally heightened the risk of secondary infections, the family was forced to bounce between hotels, hospitals and temporary apartments. Amber recalled, “Construction sites and mold spores were enemy number one. To keep Greyson alive, we had to live in strict isolation – no school, no friends, no sports.”
She continued, “Our life was in shambles. We were so stressed, isolated and completely terrified.” That’s when a hospital social worker mentioned Brent’s Place, a Denver non-profit that offers safe-clean housing for families and their children experiencing medical crises. Located a few blocks from Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, the space has pioneered best practices in social distancing and medical hygiene, as well as support for immuno-compromised children in treatment and recovery.
The Saunders moved onto the Brent’s Place campus the day before Greyson’s bone marrow transplant and stayed through recuperation, a total of 87 days. “Brent’s Place changed our lives literally overnight,” Amber said. “All of our complicated housing and financial stress was lifted when they gave our family a safe, clean, fully furnished home for as long as we might need it. They fed us, nurtured us, provided us with opportunities to play, laugh, cry and to connect with other families. Brent’s Place helped us learn how to dance in the rain,” the Saunders’ phrase for living fully.
Brent’s Place: A safe-clean home for lives fully lived
The Brent Eley Foundation, the nonprofit behind Brent’s Place, was created in 1997 by Donn and Linda Eley as a tribute to their son, Brent, who was 13 when he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma and relocated from Colorado to Iowa with his family for a bone marrow transplant. “They faced the difficult responsibility of finding and maintaining a safe-clean home away from home,” said Sean Myerhoffer, CEO of Brent’s Place. While the Eleys returned to Denver without Brent, his memory endures in the foundation’s two-building campus near Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Today at Brent’s Place, families not only receive a safe-clean place to hover between hospital and home, they also, like the Saunders, “are given a place to take a breath,” Myerhoffer said. “Here we can still make birthdays happen,” he added. Family services encourage families psychologically and connect them with financial assistance. “At the end of it, our hope is that the family is intact mentally, physically and spiritually and can rebound with their lives,” Myerhoffer said. “Without support, these things can tear a family apart. We want to stand next to a family and help the most we can.”
Boulder Creek Neighborhoods: A partner for lives fully lived
Yet the Brent’s Place inspiring stories of lives fully lived couldn’t happen without the support of partners. Because Brent’s Place puts no financial burden on families already dealing with the incomprehensible, the non-profit relies on individual and corporate support, with Boulder Creek Neighborhoods among the foundation’s top partners for seven years, Myerhoffer said.
“We are passionate about Brent’s Place,” said Jessica Champlin, Chief Revenue Officer at Boulder Creek Neighborhoods. “We are known for being passionate about giving people the opportunity to live their lives fully. Our low-maintenance communities allow homeowners additional free time – they don’t have to worry about mowing lawns and shoveling snow,” she says. True, Boulder Creek has made a name across the Front Range with their signature style of low-maintenance living, currently offered in 10 neighborhoods from Littleton to Longmont.
“We believe in “lives fully lived” – for our homeowners, of course,” Champlin says, “but also for our employees and the broader community that we serve. That’s how we got involved with Brent’s Place Boulder Creek Neighborhoods began their partnership with Brent’s Place in 2013. “We have been grateful to support Brent’s Place in their quest to help families who just want to live their lives fully,” says Champlin. Boulder Creek donates a day’s stay for a family at Brent’s Place for each Boulder Creek home sold, as well as sponsoring Brent’s Place’s annual carnival fundraiser. Additionally, several times a year, Boulder Creek teams and their families prepare homemade meals for Brent’s Place residents and staff, and during the holidays, they gather toys for the children of Brent’s Place. One summer, the entire Boulder Creek Construction team showed up at Brent’s Place to repair the playhouse. “That was a good time,” says Champlin, “seeing our rather burly construction guys doing interior work on the rather small kid’s playhouse.”
Champlin said she loves “pulling together a group to cook for Brent’s Place,” which involves shopping for and preparing 80 to 100 meals for all of the families. “We get to talk to the kiddos, and you see the hardship on the parents’ faces,” she said. “I feel immensely fortunate to work for an organization that cares about giving back in a meaningful way.”
Brent’s Place CEO Sean Myerhoffer said the connection between Brent’s Place and Boulder Creek Neighborhoods is “a match made in heaven.” He affirmed, “We share Boulder Creek Neighborhoods’ values to help people live purposefully. We want people to be able to say with our founder, to paraphrase, that despite the challenges they were facing at the time, they got to spend time with (their child), and the support of their family and friends made for a full and rich life together. That is a guiding principle for our work here at Brent’s Place.”
Brent’s Place houses nearly 60 families at any given time, all of whom are referred to by a hospital. About half of the families served per year are from Colorado, with the remainder traveling from nearby states for treatment. Unlike other hospitality homes, Brent’s Place offers long-term stays, though Myerhoffer said the need is great and the waitlist long.
Safe-clean care in a COVID-19 world
This year has been decidedly more difficult for Brent’s Place families as they face the threat of COVID-19 in addition to ongoing health challenges. Monique McCoy, Marketing and Community Outreach Director at Brent’s Place, said, “The public health crisis has required staff to deliver service differently, but we’re still keenly focused on being a lifeline for our residents. We have proactively implemented safety precautions for the good of the community, sought out financial assistance for individuals experiencing hardship, continued to provide meal service and a community pantry for food security and offer in-home entertainment options to boost the morale of our residents. Our mantra remains, ‘We are in this together.’”
For Boulder Creek Neighborhoods, that means they right there with them. Champlin said, “Brent’s Place has become a rally cry among our team. Our contribution seems so small compared to what the people and families of Brent’s Place do every day, and we feel fortunate to be a part of helping them succeed in the journey.
To get more information about Brent’s Place and Boulder Creek Neighborhoods, visit LiveBoulderCreek.com/Lifestyle/Brents-Place or BrentsPlace.org.
By Sarah Huber for At Home Colorado.