Home to more than 1,200 guests who come to Buffalo for medical treatment, officials are raising money to open a fourth building
By Nancy Cardillo
Kevin Guest House opened in 1972 as America’s first independent healthcare hospitality house, serving patients of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and their families, and setting the standard for compassionate guest care.
Today, the house is part of a campus comprised of beautifully restored buildings in the heart of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and serves more than 1,200 guests annually from all over the country and around the world.
Kevin Guest House has embarked on an ambitious $3 million campaign to open the fourth building on its campus, the Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House. This 1888 home has been renovated and designed to plan for the future and better serve the next generation of guests.
Executive Director Lynsey Zimdahl Weaver was hired in 2014 and tasked with overseeing the expansion. Formerly with the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, Weaver helped raised millions there through various fundraising projects including the Ride For Roswell and the PaintBox Project.
IGH: How did Kevin Guest House get its start and its name?
LZW: Pennsylvanians Claudia and Cyril Garvey brought their son Kevin to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in the early 1970s for treatment of leukemia. They became aware of the many families who had also traveled to Western New York for treatment but were unable to find affordable lodging; some even sleeping in their cars. Shortly before Kevin’s death in 1972 at age 13, the Garveys purchased property at 782 and 788 Ellicott St., formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and, with the help of Roswell and volunteers, renovated the house. Kevin Guest House welcomed its first guest on July 26, 1972.
IGH: What is the mission of Kevin Guest House?
LZW: Our mission is to provide an affordable, comfortable and supportive home away from home for patients and their families who are traveling for medical care.
IGH: What services does Kevin Guest House offer?
LZW: Primarily, we provide short-term lodging for those with family being treated at nearby medical facilities. We also provide meals, a peaceful place to rest and recover and a place to be with others who understand what you are going through because they, too, are going through something similar. We also partner with area hospitals to provide support groups, spiritual sessions and bible study. We know our guests are staying with us during some of the most difficult times of their lives, so we want to make them comfortable, to mimic ‘home’ so they experience as much normalcy as possible.
IGH: What is the campus comprised of?
LZW: Right now we have three completed buildings and one under construction. The main house, named the Garvey Family & Friends House, is a grand Victorian built in 1867. It can host up to 20 guests in 10 rooms and is also home to our resident manager. Large families and bone marrow transplant patients typically stay in our yellow brick transplant recovery building, which features two spacious apartments. We converted the original garage/carriage house into two transplant recovery apartments, one of which is handicapped accessible. We also have a beautiful healing garden in the backyard for our guests to enjoy
IGH: And the new Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House?
LZW: Thanks to many generous donations, including a $500,000 donation from Russell Salvatore, we were able to purchase the Victorian home next door and are in the process of restoring and renovating it. When it opens early in 2018 it will house two transplant recovery apartments and four large family suites and will double the number of guests we can serve each year, to 2,400.
IGH: What necessitated the need to expand the campus?
LZW: Demand. Right now we turn away approximately 400 families annually either because we are at capacity or not fully handicapped accessible. The new 12,000-square-foot hospitality house will have, in addition to the suites and apartments, an elevator, a commercial laundry room, a family living space and a multi-purpose room where guests can work while away from home.
IGH: Has the expansion of the medical campus created more demand for you?
LZW: Absolutely, and we expect it to increase even more with the recent opening of the Oishei Children’s Hospital, which was recently approved to be the only hospital in Buffalo that performs pediatric bone marrow transplants, in conjunction with Roswell. We now welcome patients from any hospital — and we are the only such facility in Buffalo to do so — of any age, being treated for any disease. While approximately 50-60 percent of our guests still come from Roswell, we now are seeing more guests coming from Kaleida, ECMC, Buffalo General, Gates Vascular Institute and Sisters Hospital, as well as regional facilities. We hear from staff members all the time that they send people to us first because it feels so much like home.
IGH: What’s the advantage of staying at Kevin Guest House over a hotel?
LZW: It’s a combination of cost, convenience and comfort. Healthcare is expensive enough, but when you add hotel and meal costs, it can really be a hardship for some families. We ask for $25 per person per night, but won’t ever turn away anyone because they can’t afford to stay with us. Then there’s our proximity to the many medical facilities. Roswell Park actually has data showing that when bone marrow patients stay at Kevin Guest House, they have higher success rates than patients who travel back and forth, because it’s much more convenient to be across the street than driving several hours, so they’re more likely to keep their appointments.
Finally, Kevin Guest House feels more like home than a hotel, and gives guests a chance to rest their head, focus on their health and not worry about additional finances.
IGH: How large is your staff?
LZW: We currently have six full-time and five weekend temporary staff members who rotate each week, plus dozens of volunteers.
IGH: How can the community help?
LZW: There are many ways to support Kevin Guest House. We still need to raise approximately $550,000 to meet our expansion fund goal, so donations are always appreciated and can be made via our website (https://kevinguesthouse.com/give/). Companies can host or sponsor events or initiate team fundraising or volunteer as a group to cook a dinner for guests or help with a special project. We always need volunteers to check in guests, give tours, clean and prepare rooms, do gardening tasks and cook meals. (NOTE: those interested in volunteering can visit https://kevinguesthouse.com/volunteers/ or email email@example.com for more information.)
IGH: What is your dream for the future of Kevin Guest House?
LZW: I am always asking myself what I would do if something happened to one of my loved ones. Our hope is to continue to expand to serve more people, more families so we do not ever have to turn anyone away.
IGH: What is the one thing you’d like people to know about Kevin Guest House?
LZW: It’s all about being the City of Good Neighbors, thinking about those going through one of the most difficult times in their lives and paying it forward for someone by providing dignity and comfort for those wanting to be near their loved ones. We don’t want to see a grandmother sleeping in her car with a sick grandchild because she can’t afford a place to stay.
Poinsettia Flower Sale
Support Kevin Guest House this holiday season! Purchase beautiful poinsettias for your home or office.
Dec. 5-14 at Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Buffalo General Medical Center; John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital; ECMC, Ellicott Square Building and the Larkin Building.
Days and times vary by location. Visit https://kevinguesthouse.com/events/flowers/ for more information.