"We decided that maybe this would be better than the motels," she says of her nonprofit, the Rathbun Center. "Mission: please, please take care of my baby."
Borne from a need Key saw specifically to provide free short-term housing for the families of cancer patients, the idea for the hospital hospitality home grew to include the families and caregivers of patients receiving any medical treatment at Mission Hospital, CarePartners or the Charles George Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
At that moment, Keys says, "I realized I was going to need a bigger house."
But upkeep on this big house, President and CEO of Mission Foundation Bruce Thorsen points out, can become increasingly expensive to maintain.
"We probably need to raise about $400,000 a year to keep its operations free," he estimates, citing the physical upkeep of the house as the potential strain for the Rathbun House to continue its operations without the help of the foundation.
Since 1994, the 36-bedroom home tucked away across the street from Mission Hospital has provided free lodging to about 52,000 family members and caregivers (70 percent of them from counties in Western North Carolina). To stay, guests must live outside Buncombe County and be referred to the center by a hospital chaplain, social worker or physician. The need, Thorsen says, never seems to dwindle.
"It's always full. There's always a waiting list," he notes. On average, guests stay at the Rathbun Center for six nights though they can stay for as along as 21 days.
Run solely by volunteers, Thorsen says the operations of the center will not change despite a switch in the leadership of the home.
"It's been a separate nonprofit up until this point, and now it will join the Mission family to give it a little more strength. Our goal is to still keep the house free so that anyone who stays here can stay here for free," he maintains.
That's just fine with Key. For her, the house that appeared to her in a dream will not fade.
"The road [to the house] will not be paved because it changes your attitude as you come back and forth," she says. "The Rathbun Center will continue to be the Rathbun Center, but Mission Foundation is going to take a load off of my shoulders and the board's shoulders."
—Caitlin Byrd can be reached at email@example.com, or 251-1333, ext.140.
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