Back when I was a teenager, I remember my parents starting to have conversations about this wild idea they had. It was a notion they had already been thinking about for years, but it was only just coming to my attention. They were calling it “Hunter House,” named for my older brother Hunter, who I never met because he passed in infancy. It was a place where new moms could stay right next to the hospital while their newborns were kept in intensive care, and other people could stay there too if their family member or friend was in the hospital, or if they were going back and forth for their own hospital treatment. It would be a charity organization, and staying there would be totally free. It sounded interesting, though I didn’t really understand the function at the time. I had very little experience with hospitals.
Also, I was surprised to hear my parents talking about taking on something so different, and so ambitious. My dad had been a middle school math teacher as long as I could remember, and my mom had for the most part been a stay-at-home mom, later doing part-time work in babysitting and sales to help make ends meet. I was very accustomed to the routine of our lives. Work and dress shirts and ties and afterschool activities and biweekly paychecks to pay for the groceries were normal. The idea of them starting their own organization was creative and risky and almost out of character for my very normal parents, but they were excited and passionate about something together, which was fun to see.
As time passed, things became more realized. My parents were reading books called things like “Starting a 501(C)(3) For Dummies,” and the conversation shifted from “What do you think about this idea?” to plans and schedules, and funding. I remember one evening when I was in high school, sitting in the living room with my girlfriend (now wife) watching TV, and my parents coming in to ask if we had any ideas for a logo for Hunter Hospitality House. I fancied myself an artist, so I grabbed a piece of computer paper and a pencil and doodled a prototype of a big block letter H where the negative space was a window and a door, adding a little roof and a chimney on top. Their work continued, and I wasn’t aware of everything that went on in the background, but when I was away for my first semester of college, Hunter Hospitality House opened its doors.
When I went home for breaks from school, I got to see a lot of the early progress with the organization, and I was pleased to find out that my parents, after years of hobnobbing with all of the folks at church and school and extracurricular activities, had received an outpouring of support from the local community. All of the childhood hours of sitting in church lobbies and gymnasiums waiting for my mom to finish a conversation with a new friend had paid off, because it seemed like my parents knew everyone in town, and the combination of a good cause and those friendly relationships had earned them their dream. They were really doing it.
In the years that followed, my wife and I would move out of state and start a family of our own, and I was learning a lot about the way the world works. I spent a lot of time in hospitals before the birth of my son, and I learned that the spouse of a patient doesn’t get a place to stay at the hospital. They’ll wheel a little chair into the room for you to sleep in if they have a spare, but if you aren’t the one paying a hospital bill, you’re essentially in the way. When the day arrived, our baby was born pretty small, and with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck just like his daddy. We were so worried about the possibility of him having to stay in the NICU, or that my wife’s hospital stay would end and we would have to leave him there, dozens of miles from our home. There was no Hunter Hospitality House for us out there, and we would have been out of luck.
When he was older our son would come down with pneumonia, and my wife would get to experience sleeping in a hospital chair while our son recovered in his strange, sterile crib/cage. We were there for days, with no place to shower or eat or have any respite from that horrible room. And ultimately, we were the lucky ones. We had friends whose babies were born prematurely and stayed in the NICU for weeks, where there was no option to suffer through it and be with them. Every time I was faced with another hospital visit, I was reminded of the great work my parents were doing back in my hometown.
My daughter was born near the beginning of the pandemic, which meant canceled flights and no parents in town to help us during those first weeks of her life. No one got to visit us in the hospital, including our son, who was at home with my brother-in-law. Thankfully he lived nearby because if we didn’t have someone local to babysit our son, that would have meant I needed to stay home and watch him, missing the birth of my daughter, and leaving my wife to fend for herself through sleepless nights and a difficult delivery. Meanwhile in Port Huron, Hunter Hospitality House had to cease operation along with most other businesses and organizations, which was the correct decision at the time, but it left the local community without that important asset.
After my daughter was born, we were planning to move back to Michigan as soon as we felt like it was safe to travel again. When she was about a year old, my dad reached out to let me know that an assistant manager position was being created at Hunter Hospitality House. He was being stretched too thin as the manager, and the organization was growing with the introduction of the new Family House location. He told me that if I happened to move back soon, I could apply for the job, but the position was needed urgently and would not be held for me once it was created. I had already left my previous job to be a stay-at-home dad, with daycare being much less affordable now that we had two kids. Around this time my wife decided that she needed to do something else for work, and our landlords raised our rent, and it became clear that the timing was all coming together. We needed to move, we needed new jobs, I had a job offer back home, and the time was now. We took a cross-country road trip, and we were back in Port Huron, and I would finally get a closer look at the organization my parents had spent the past 10 years working on.
Back in 1991 when my brother Hunter was born, he needed to stay in the Port Huron Hospital after my mom’s hospital stay had ended, and he was in and out of the hospital until he passed a short time later. This meant a lot of driving back and forth for my parents, who lived about half an hour outside of town and were exhausted and sleep-deprived from the experience. We weren’t really talking about “Drowsy Driving” in the ’90s, but it’s now widely considered to be more dangerous than texting or other distracted driving. They needed help, and they didn’t receive it.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make the world a better place, and we can’t always rely on our elected officials or our for-profit businesses to make it happen. This is the role of non-profit organizations in our society. They pick up the slack that isn’t profitable for other people to help with, and they draw upon the generosity of our community to do it. It makes me so proud of my parents that they stepped away from their normal lives and took it upon themselves to organize a place for people to receive the help they need, that they themselves needed 30 years ago and didn’t have. It’s an honor for me to work for Hunter Hospitality House and continue this legacy that my parents began.