House provides home during medical need
Green Bay group opens new residence to meet life needs
By Crystal Delwiche
As you walk through the door of the new 12- bedroom, 4,169 square-foot Altrusa House, you can feel its welcoming atmosphere, from the "Bless This Home" wall plaque to the bright, sunny second-floor living room.
The new house, at 1116 E. Mason St., is operated by the Green Bay Altrusa Club to provide a home for out-of-area persons receiving long-term medical care or their families.
Typical residents may be patients receiving weeks of outpatient radiation treatment, a young mother who must remain nearby while her newborn is undergoing care, or a wife whose husband was injured while visiting Wisconsin.
"The house is meant for families who are facing the stress of a medical emergency," said the administrator, Karen Wodill. "The Altrusa House is able to lift at least one weight from the burden the families bear -- where to stay and the expense that goes along with it."
Since 1990, The Altrusa Club, a professional charitable organization, has operated temporary residence for families and patients requiring prolonged medical assistance. The new house, which was made possible through generous support of fund-raising efforts, opened Sept. 17 and is up and running as Respect Life Month begins.
The first three-bedroom house operated by Altrusa was on Porlier Street. Since 1998, the number of patients using that house increased as the Green Bay medical community's skills and reputation became known throughout the region. Patients came from Marinette, Florence, and Forest Counties and the Upper Peninsula, Wodill said.
Guests are either individuals who live considerable distances from Green Bay or family members of hospitalized patients who cannot afford an extended hotel stay.
"Our previous facility in 1998 was in use 337 days, or 92% of the time," Wodill said.
The house was originally started for cancer patients and families, but has since opened to others, said Caroline Denis, Altrusa Club member.
The new two-storied facility includes two completely furnished kitchens, so guests just need to buy their own food. There are three shared bathrooms for six bedrooms; the other six bedrooms have private bathrooms.
Each bedroom is furnished by sponsors who decorated each room with their own special touches. For example, the Allouez Kiwanis Club sponsored a Packer room; The Pink Flamingos sponsored a room with flamingos; and an individual sponsored a room decorated with swans. There are on-site laundry facilities.
"We want this house to be their home away from home," Wodill said.
Along with Wodill as administrator, there is a caretaker who lives on-site to help families. St. Mary, St. Vincent, and Bellin hospitals and two pediatric oncology clinics work closely with The Altrusa House to screen guests.
The only charge for staying at the house is a $5 key deposit, which is returned when guests leave. Most guests offer to rake leaves or wash windows to feel like they're helping out, said Diann Wimmer, a volunteer.
"The people that come to stay here are wonderful. They come with gratitude and go home crying because of the generosity," said Wimmer, who is the Green Bay Diocese's director of Worship.
The word Altrusa is derived from "altruism," meaning a regard and devotion to the interest of others. A small group of professional women with a vision of a better world and the courage to take action, gathered on April 11, 1917, in Nashville, Tenn., to form the first Altrusa Club and dedicated itself to "Patriotism, Efficiency, and Service."
Under the leadership of Euphemia Kay, the Altrusa Club of Green Bay was founded in 1930 and received its national charter in 1934. During World War II, the club supported the national defense by buying bonds, supplying reading materials to soldiers, and donating blood. In the mid '40s, the Altrusa Club helped start what is today known as the N.E.W. Curative Rehabilitation Center.
The late 1980s presented a new challenge for the Altrusa Club in Green Bay. The incredible growth of the community made Green Bay a major center for medical care. That created an urgent need for a temporary residence for patients and their families who traveled great distances to obtain medical treatment.
After visiting the Ronald Mc Donald House and learning about how they help families, the club used it as their model, Wodill said.
"You can tell where the members of this club's hearts are by how they help people," said Wodill. "They are definitely a caring group of people."
The Altrusa Club held an open house on Oct. 3 that included speakers from the hospitals, a flag raising with honor guard, ribbon cutting, refreshments and tours.
The Altrusa Club also helps with projects at schools, provides scholarships, and helps clean up local parks.
"There is an outstanding bond of friendship with women in the group," Wimmer said. "They take the social problems of the city to heart and take a look and see how they can contribute for the best of the city."
For more information, phone Wodill at 884-6677.