When it comes to fundraising in Gwinnett County, most people are familiar with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life after Gwinnett's run of 10 straight years as the top relay in the world. While participants are proud to be part of the fight against cancer, they are also curious as to where that money goes.
I visited one of those places last week, an annual trip I make with my fellow committee members from the Tournament of Hope golf tournament, which also raises funds for ACS. We visited the Winn Dixie Hope Lodge in Decatur last Wednesday night, bringing food to share with the cancer patients and their caregivers who call the Hope Lodge home while undergoing treatments.
The easiest explanation of the lodge is that it's a Ronald McDonald House for adult cancer patients, a place for them and their caregivers to stay free of charge during treatment. But it's more than just a place to bunk for a night.
There are 52 guest suites, which include private baths. There is a communal kitchen area where guests can cook dinners. Washers and dryers are also available, and there are computer work stations and a library at the facility as well as a private courtyard -- not to mention a big-screen TV.
There are also shuttles available to take patients to and from treatments. And it's all free, right down to the laundry soap, for people seeking cancer treatment who live 40 miles or more from where they receive treatment.
In short, it can be a saving grace for folks battling for their lives.
"Almost every time someone gets ready to leave they say, 'We couldn't have had treatment without the Hope Lodge," said Pat Swan, a Lilburn resident who volunteers at the facility, which is located on Clairmont Road near Emory University.
A retired nurse, Swan can be found at the lodge on Tuesdays, writing thank-you notes for donations the facility has received, helping admit guests and doing whatever else is needed to keep the place running efficiently. She sees people with various cancers in various stages of their fight, all using the Hope Lodge as a refuge.
But the lodge not only helps financially, but often spiritually as well. The residents -- there can be more than 100 when the rooms are full -- become friends and supporters. They socialize in the living and game rooms and eat together, especially on nights when civic groups visit with meals.
Wednesdays are graduation nights, when everyone gathers for dinner. The folks who are finishing their treatments -- there were two gentlemen "graduating" during my visit -- are introduced and share thoughts from their stay. Those include many thanks to loved ones and to those who work at the Hope Lodge for their support. It's a very touching ceremony, one that stays with you long after you leave.
"This is one of the best things I've ever done," Swan said of her volunteer work at the lodge, a sentiment echoed by many.
There are Hope Lodges situated across the country, and one of the goals of the ACS is to let people know they are there. It's one of those things you hope to never have to use, but it's nice to know it's available if needed.
You don't have to be a member of the American Cancer Society to help at the Hope Lodge. The facility welcomes individual volunteers or groups looking to bring a meal as part of their community outreach. As Pat Swan will tell you, and I can attest, it's a very worthwhile endeavor.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.