Goldfish swim in a small pond, a robin rests on an outdoor rabbit sculpture and quiet voices and laughter can be heard coming from the pretty gazebo. The backyard garden of the Joseph S. and Jeannette M. Silber Hope Lodge is a hidden paradise in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.
Opened in 1995, the 35,000-square-foot Hope Lodge is an American Cancer Society lodging facility. It accommodates adult cancer patients and their families who travel to Cleveland for treatment at the city’s superb medical institutions. Guests must live at least an hour away or have come at least 40 miles. Some patients stay a few days. Others, including transplant patients, stay 100 days or more. The cost to stay? Nothing.
“Guests initially tell us that the tremendous cost savings is the most important thing to them. But even after a short stay, they say the sense of community becomes equally, if not more, important,” says Tracy Petrakis, Hope Lodge’s manager. “We try to break down barriers to treatment, and we know the cost of lodging can stop someone from getting treatment at places that aren’t near their homes. We get referrals from social workers, nurses and others. It’s first come, first serve, and we operate with a waiting list.”
“This building saves lives,” adds Alexandra Houser Vukoder, director of communications for the American Cancer Society Cleveland Market. “Sometimes people say they will stay here, but they aren’t going to mingle. That lasts about a day. Guests don’t always want to talk to family or friends because they know they will worry them. But here they find others who are going through the same things.”
Hope Lodge has 31 guest suites with private baths, plus a dining room, living room, library, laundry room, exercise room and lots of nooks and crannies to find solitude if desired. Daytime and evening programming is varied and often top-notch. For example, Cleveland Institute of Music students often present enriching performances. Corporate volunteers also create potluck meals for those staying at the lodge. And, of course, there is always chair yoga.
Because Hope Lodge caters to out-of-towners, not everyone in Greater Cleveland knows of its existence. But Petrakis says Hope Lodge often is the first introduction to our city for those coming for medical care. The facility’s ability to make patients and their families comfortable and welcome is imperative. About 70 percent of guests staying at the facility are from Ohio.
The need for this kind of support is growing, and Hope Lodge, which is funded entirely through donations, is in the initial “quiet stage” for an upcoming capital campaign. The $6.3 million goal will include a complete renovation of the facility, plus an expansion of the kitchen area and addition of 10 suites. Increased operating costs because of the expansion also will be covered if the goal is met.
“It’s time,” says Petrakis. “We have learned a lot in 20 years about how to make our facility even better for our guests.”
The Cleveland facility is one of 32 American Cancer Society Hope Lodge communities in the United States, the first opening in 1970 in Charleston, South Carolina. In 2016, more than 24,000 individual patients and caregivers were served, representing all 50 states and more than 45 countries. Families saved an estimated $37 million in hotel expenses. (Hope Lodge, 11432 Mayfield Road, 216-844-4673, cancer.org/hopelodge) )