Volunteer

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey (IOOFNJ) has been a longtime supporter of the Howie’s House mission.

IOOFNJ generously committed to a multi-year sponsorship of the Howie’s House’s shuttle program

Former grandmaster, late heart transplant recipient and wonderful friend Harold Delhagen connected our two missions many years ago, and since, IOOFNJ has made a real difference in the lives of transplant families.

They supported our initial capital campaign to help build the Howie’s House and open our doors by underwriting one of our guest rooms. They’ve helped transplant families who couldn’t afford our nightly fee with a contribution to our Adopt-A-Family program. Additionally, IOOFNJ has volunteered on many occasions in our kitchen to provide warm, home-cooked meals to our guests in the evenings as part of our Home Cook Heroes program.

Most recently, they generously committed to a multi-year sponsorship of our shuttle program to help bring transplant patients and their family members back and forth from Philadelphia hospitals and the Howie’s House.

This contribution to our mission helps provide a much-needed service to our guests so they don’t have to navigate an unfamiliar city alone or pay expensive parking fees while caring for a loved one undergoing the transplant process.

Our shuttle helps bring guests back and forth from Philadelphia’s transplant centers and the Howie’s House

In 2019 alone, their support helped us travel over 16,000 miles to provide more than 1,100 trips to and from Philadelphia hospitals and the Howie’s House!

IOOFNJ is an organization based on the foundations of Friendship, Love and Truth, and seeks to make our world a better one to live in through charitable work on various projects in their community.

We are so grateful for their support and look forward to serving transplant families with them in the future!

Theresa had considered herself knowledgeable about organ and tissue donation after seeing how it worked as a respiratory therapist, but when her co-worker’s granddaughter passed away and became an organ donor, she was inspired to learn more about the process.

Shea sitting by the pier
Shea became an organ donor when she passed away

After learning about the Howie’s House through a Gift of Life presentation, she and her family held a fundraiser to support our mission to care for transplant families. They also signed up to participate in our Home Cook Heroes program under the team name “Team Shea” as a tribute to her co-worker’s granddaughter.

“We had such a great time cooking meals for these families…and we’ve been volunteering ever since!” Theresa says.

Since her team’s initial visit in 2017, they’ve been back several times and have earned an All-Stars a plate on our wall.

Joining Theresa in our kitchen are her children and her grandkids. They prepare comforting meals like shepherd’s pie and meatballs and ziti. Sometimes they serve fun, interactive meals like “Walk-Around Tacos” where guests can create their own taco salads in a Frito’s bag.

Along with dinner, Team Shea brings games and gives guests a chance to win items like puzzle books, decks of cards, paperback books, or candy.

“We figured some of these items could make their time waiting a little easier,” Theresa adds. “No matter how bad a day they may have had, the Howie’s House guests are so nice and appreciative. It’s amazing.”

Team Shea also provides dessert!

“One time, a guest asked me if he could bring some extra cookies to his wife in the hospital to cheer her up,” Theresa says. “It amazed me that something Team Shea did—something so little—would make his wife’s time in the hospital a little bit better.”

Team Shea sitting in the Howie's House Adirondack chair
Theresa’s grandchildren often volunteer with her

Volunteers like Team Shea are such a vital part of our mission. Their hard work and dedication in our kitchen help us welcome transplant families home and lessen their burden of worrying about what to eat or where to get it after a long day.

Theresa hopes other people will become inspired to learn about the Howie’s House and its Home Cook Heroes program.

“People should go to the Howie’s House to see what it’s like and donate their time,” she says. “The staff tries so hard to make the guests feel as comfortable as possible. It’s even better than I imagined it to be.”

Something very special happened in the Howie’s House kitchen this summer.

Bryson and his family with Mason’s parents in the Howie’s House kitchen

Two families not only came together to cook a warm, home-cooked meal for our guests, but to also celebrate the life of toddler Mason Hess, an organ donor who saved four lives.

Mason Hess and his parents, Kellie and Adam

The two families were Mason’s own, and the family of the little boy who received Mason’s lungs, Bryson Palmer.

Bryson Palmer, the recipient of Mason’s lungs, celebrates Mason’s life

Kellie and Adam Hess regularly volunteer at the Howie’s House as Home Cook Heroes as a way to keep Mason’s memory alive. When Bryson Palmer and his family flew from their home in Ohio to visit the Hess’ in New Jersey, everyone thought it would be a great idea to cook a meal together at the Howie’s House. The only volunteer date available during their visit was Mason’s birthday.

“It was such a moving experience to cook with the family of one of Mason’s recipients and see how far both families have come,” Kellie says. “We are so happy that this wonderful little boy is healthy. We felt such a bond with him.”

Kellie Hess, Mason’s mother, hugs Bryson, the recipient of her son’s lungs

When Bryson was five months old, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer and received 18 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, radiation, and immuno-therapy. Unfortunately, he suffered a rare side effect—progressive scarring of the lungs—and required a double lung transplant. Bryson and his family traveled over 500 miles from Ohio to St. Louis, Missouri where he waited for 12 weeks in the PICU before he received his precious gift of life from Mason.

Bryson and his family traveled from Ohio to New Jersey to meet and say thank you to Mason’s family

It’s been six years since Bryson received his transplant and he has remained cancer free. He’s also the healthiest he’s ever been.

“It feels like Mason’s family and my family were meant to be in each other’s lives,” Katie, Bryson’s mother, says. “We at least hoped we’d be able to say thank you to the family who donated their loved one’s organs. We never expected to have such a close relationship, but now we’re all family.”

Bryson and Mason’s sister, Faith, pose with a photo of Mason

The Palmers’ stay as Home Cook Heroes was the first time they’d ever been to a Howie’s House-like facility. “During Bryson’s transplant journey, we traveled over 500 miles from home,” Katie says. “We were told we had to stay there but had nowhere to go. I slept in the hospital with Bryson and kept necessities in my car in the parking garage. My husband traveled back and forth from Ohio so he could continue working. We eventually did get an apartment, but there was no pantry, no meal offered every night, and we were completely on our own. It’s amazing that the Howie’s House is a place to call home for so many people.” While cooking at the Howie’s House, Bryson and his family were able to meet two other double lung recipients.

“It’s so nice to see this community,” Katie adds. “It would’ve been nice to have other families to talk to.”

The Hess and Palmer families in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden

We are so proud and humbled that our kitchen was a warm meeting place for such a meaningful moment between a donor and recipient family. These families are a true testament to how organ donation changes lives—and it was all possible because Adam and Kellie said yes to donation.

Through the generosity and support of our contributors, Gift of Life Howie’s House is able to provide a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families.

Click here to donate today!

The annual Gift of Life Volunteer Recognition Ceremony, a day where we recognize the compassion, dedication, and hard work our volunteers bring to the Gift of Life community, took place on June 9th.

Home Cook Heroes group New Vision Pioneers outside in the Howie’s House Legacy Garden.

The Howie’s House had the opportunity to present four awards—the Home Cook Heroes Award, the Heartman Award, the Fundraising Ambassador Award, and the Guest Services Award. We are so incredibly proud and humbled by all of our volunteers and couldn’t have been happier to honor them in this special way.

We presented our Home Cook Heroes Award to New Vision Pioneers, who, led by Jody, have been volunteering with us since the spring of 2015. Since then, they have come in 36 times to date and have served nearly 2,000 meals to families who came a long way to receive treatment in Philadelphia.

The Heartman Award was given to Janice Schwartz Donahue. Janice has been volunteering with Gift of Life for over 20 years, first getting involved with her daughter, Jessica, who was a heart transplant recipient. Sadly, Jessica passed away, but Janice continues to carry on her legacy by coordinating Jessie’s Day with her other daughter, Laura, every year to give the gift of education to organ transplant recipients who are looking to attend college.

Volunteer Janice Schwartz Donahue with volunteer Karen Barnett-Roberts.

Janice is also a weekly volunteer at the Howie’s House. Every Wednesday, you’ll find her in the kitchen warmly welcoming and supporting the Home Cook Heroes volunteer groups, giving tours, setting up and cleaning up, or doing whatever is needed to make sure the kitchen operations are running smoothly.
She has become part of the Howie’s House “family” and we just love having her with us each week. To date, Janice has contributed over 900 hours of her time to supporting the Howie’s House!

This year, the 2018 Fundraising Ambassador Award, which recognizes a volunteer, group, or organization that has demonstrated exceptional leadership in coordinating, motivating, and successfully completing fundraising efforts for Gift of Life Howie’s House, was given to the Penkala Family.

In an effort to honor his son Paulie and raise awareness about organ and tissue donation, Paul Penkala, along with family and friends, hosts an annual golf tournament and graciously donates all of the money raised to Gift of Life Howie’s House.

Howie’s House Development Manager, Sara Cohen, poses with the Penkala family.

In 2011, the family pledged $25,000 to underwrite the Howie’s House resident laundry room in their son’s name, because, as Paul put it, “Paulie was always particular about ironing his clothing.”

Even though they fulfilled this pledge a few years ago, the Penkalas continue to host their outing to support our Adopt-A-Family Program.

The Penkalas also volunteer in the House as Home Cook Heroes, preparing and serving home-cooked meals to our guests, and in the community by participating in speaking engagements, sharing their donation story, and spreading awareness for organ and tissue donation.

The Penkala family has accomplished so much and we are so grateful for all you’ve done for the Howie’s House, our transplant families, and the transplant community.

Lastly, our Guest Service Award was given to Ginneh Earle. Ginneh began volunteering at the Howie’s House in 2014 and has generously contributed over 400 hours of her time since joining our team.

Ginneh Earle, left, and Howie’s House Resident Manager, Diana, right.

Anyone who has been at the Howie’s House on a night where Ginneh is helping knows that they are instantly in good hands, as she makes sure that our Home Cook Heroes groups have everything they need, and always doing so with a welcoming smile. She often will stay at the Howie’s House until after 9pm, making sure several times that there is really nothing else she can do to help!

In addition to being a friendly presence at the Howie’s House on a weekly basis, Ginneh also has volunteered at the Dash and President’s Reception.

Ginneh does not have a direct connection to transplantation, but says that she just wants to help, and we can’t thank her enough for that. Her leadership, kindness, and commitment to support and comfort transplant patients, families, caregivers, and fellow volunteers is truly admirable.

Our volunteers play such an important role at the Howie’s House and we are so grateful for their help—thank you so much!

Legacy Society members Elizabeth and David Kennedy.
Legacy Society members Elizabeth and David Kennedy.

David and Elizabeth are leaving a legacy.

Gift of Life Howie’s House is proud to spotlight members of the Legacy Society who have made planned gifts to support the future of the Howie’s House.

Twenty-five years ago, David and Elizabeth Kennedy lost their eldest son, David Jr., in a car accident. The couple made the brave decision to donate his tissue–one that helped 45 other people.

Shortly after her son’s passing, Elizabeth joined the Lehigh Valley Ambassadors for Organ and Tissue Donation to help spread awareness about organ and tissue donation. She also became involved with Gift of Life, and she and her husband began to attend volunteer meetings. They’ve also attended the Transplant Games since 2004.

When the Howie’s House opened in 2011, David and Elizabeth began to financially support our mission, too, by becoming Family Circle members. They attended our President’s Reception, an event to honor our Family & Founder’s Circle members, and became interested in Gift of Life Howie’s House’s Legacy Society for Planned Giving. Both were thinking about redoing their wills and generously decided to include the Howie’s House in them.

“The Howie’s House gives patients one less thing to worry about,” David says. “What the staff does is absolutely amazing. It’s a great feeling to support it. We’re able to be a part of the Legacy Society, so why wouldn’t we?”

The Kennedys’ decision to join our Legacy Society and make a planned gift ensures that they will help families staying with us years from now, and that their values will live on in the future at the Howie’s House.

“We were thinking about what could be possible for the families who will stay at the house,” Elizabeth says. “We knew they’d need a place to go. We knew what we went through as a donor family and we can only imagine how difficult it must be for those on the waiting list. We understand how important it is for them to have their families close by.”

Are you also considering drafting or redoing your will? You, too, can join Gift of Life Howie’s House’s Legacy Society for Planned Giving and ensure that the love and care transplant families need will be provided for years to come.

Have you already included the Howie’s House in your will?

Let us know so we can celebrate with you now! Enjoy recognition today as a Legacy Society member. Supporters who notify us that they have made arrangements for planned gifts will be recognized as members of our prestigious Legacy Society. Member who have made bequests of $10,000 or more will have their names added to the special Legacy Society Wall in the Howie’s House living room.

Find more information here.

To discuss making a planned gift to Gift of Life Howie’s House or if you have already named us in your will, please contact Sara Cohen, Development Manager at 267-546-9812 or email scohen@giftoflifefamilyhouse.org. Please consult your attorney, tax adviser, or financial adviser before making a bequest or updating your estate plan.

In August of 2014, Carol McCloud’s son, Ryan, became an organ donor. At 20 years old, Ryan saved four lives. Until her son’s passing, Carol and her family didn’t know much about donation, but she says it’s been a blessing to her and her family, helping them get through her son’s sudden passing.

The McCloud’s are residents of Fishtown, a neighborhood just north of Gift of Life Donor Program and the Howie’s House, so it was easy for Carol to begin volunteering with our organization. She began with the Donor Dash, and soon after, she visited the Gift of Life website to learn about other volunteer opportunities. Carol also noticed signs on the highway for the Howie’s House.

After some thought, she and her family decided that on the first anniversary of her son’s passing, they’d do a food drive for the Howie’s House. They’ve been doing one ever since.

The McCloud family fills up their entire minivan with food and other household supplies for guests here at the Howie’s House. Family, friends, and small businesses in the neighborhood like grocery stores and restaurants all contribute; relatives and friends also advertise at work. “A big chain of people have made this drive so successful,” Carol says.

The before and after care transplant patients and their families receive at the Howie’s House motivates Carol to keep giving. “Being able to help others the way people helped my son is important to me,” she says. “Volunteering and spending time at the Howie’s House allows me to see first-hand what they do for families and allows me to celebrate my son and spread his story.”

Carol and her family also volunteer as Home Cook Heroes on or around Ryan’s birthday.

Thank you, McCloud family, for selflessly supporting our mission and transplant families!

The ladies of Rutgers Gang have kept their college friendships especially strong. They began volunteering as Home Cook Heroes when the Howie’s House opened in 2011, and have continued their commitment to serving transplant families in honor of a member whose relative passed after while waiting for a multi-organ transplant and another whose daughter received two kidney transplants.

At least once a month, these women come together not only to catch up, but to prepare and serve a warm meal for our guests. “Some people don’t realize the stress on caretakers is very hard,” Barbara, one of the members, says. “It’s good to sit down, relax, and enjoy something other than a boxed meal.”

For one of their first meals, they prepared a big lasagna dinner. However, when they found out most other Home Cook Heroes groups were serving Italian-style meals, they started to change things up. Since then, they’ve served breakfast for dinner, Mexican meals, and have even barbequed outside.

“We’ve got our routine down to a science,” Barbara says.

After they finish cooking, the ladies will often go out to dinner themselves, bringing their husbands and boyfriends along with them.

“It’s fun to get together with my friends,” Barbara says. “It’s also fun to do something for others. We all love cooking and it’s something we can all do. The Howie’s House is so life-changing. It feels like home.”

We’re so grateful these women have found a home here at the Howie’s House and that by volunteering with us, they’re honoring important people in their lives.

We’ll see you next time, Rutgers Gang!

Ed Galarza’s been a volunteer with Gift of Life Donor Program since he received a life-saving liver transplant in 2003. As soon as the Howie’s House opened in 2011, he started volunteering here, too. He started out cooking dinners for our guests, checking them in at the Front Desk, and driving them to and from transplant hospitals for their doctor’s appointments. Seven years later, Ed’s still hanging out with us. He volunteers twice a week assisting with upkeep around the facility, performing maintenance work, and is a back-up shuttle driver.

Ed was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in the Bronx, and now lives in New Jersey. He has 2 children, 3 grandchildren, and is a retired Army veteran. He was first diagnosed with liver disease in 1999, but didn’t start to get sick until 2003. Unfortunately, there was no Howie’s House for him or his family to stay in during his transplant journey. His wife had to travel to and from the hospital by herself. He understands the importance of having a safe place to stay during such a difficult journey.

“The Howie’s House is very important,” he says. “It’s all about helping people in need.”

Ed is motivated to give back to everyone who has helped him along his own transplant journey. “I volunteer here to give back to the wonderful people who work for this organization, for my second chance at life, and for those who worked their butts off to help me get where I am today,” he says. “I get more than I give when I’m here. Being in the Howie’s House makes me feel better.”

Ed also enjoys giving back to others who are on their own transplant journeys. “I really like talking with the guests I meet. I can relate to them,” he says. “I’ve been there. I know what they’re going through and what they will go through.”

We’re so thankful for you, Ed. You help make the Howie’s House such a wonderful place!

In 2004, Diana Ortiz battled a virus that left her with an enlarged heart. In 2011, her heart began to fail and she started spending several days each month in the hospital. In 2016, she was given six months to live. Ortiz received a left ventricular assist device, an LVAD, to help her heart pump blood throughout her body. She went back home to Allentown, PA, with her partner, Chris Bolden, and her doctor placed her on the transplant list in September of 2017. Shortly thereafter, Ortiz received her life-saving heart transplant and a miraculous second chance at life thanks to a charitable act by a donor family.

Bolden and Ortiz made the three hour trip to Philadelphia where Ortiz underwent surgery to receive her precious gift. While the surgery was successful, her new heart was weak at first. Doctors placed her back on ECMO for the first month and she fell ill to pneumonia. Throughout the ordeal, Bolden rarely left her side. “I only went home twice,” Bolden said. “I visited the hospital every day. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. On the days I did go home, my first stop of the day was always the hospital.”

Bolden stayed at the Howie’s House for four months while Ortiz recovered. He had a place to sleep, a place to eat, and people to talk to while he supported his loved one. The Howie’s House provided shuttle service for him and other guests to the hospitals where their family members were being treated in Philadelphia. “The shuttle is a lifesaver for people,” Bolden said. “Drivers drop you right in front of the hospital entrance and people on the shuttle have either been through or are going through the same things as you. Drivers are even willing to point out historical landmarks in the city.”

Our Howie’s House volunteers drive the shuttle which runs several times a day, assisting guests who do not have cars, don’t feel comfortable navigating the city, and/or can’t afford to pay for gas and parking. “Without the shuttle, it would’ve been more of a struggle,” Bolden said. “Parking my own vehicle at the hospital would have cost almost $100 a week.” This past year, more than 4,600 guests climbed aboard our six-passenger minivan. Unfortunately, there were many trips where guests were turned away because the van was full. The minivan also has limited cargo space for stowing oxygen tanks and wheelchairs needed by transplant patients. Recently, we rented an 11-passenger vehicle to better provide for our guests’ comfort and wellbeing. “The new shuttle is roomier. There’s an overhead compartment and more room to get in,” Bolden said.

As part of our spring campaign, we hope to raise $50,000 to put towards a new, 11-passenger shuttle with a bus-style folding door, low steps, a center aisle, and a raised roof to make trips easier for both drivers and riders.

“Without the Howie’s House, [Chris] would either be living at the hospital with me, or couldn’t come back and forth,” Ortiz said. “I never worried because I knew he had a place to stay.”

We hope you consider supporting our campaign for a new shuttle. Your donation will help guests like Chris Bolden travel back and forth to visit their loved ones and leave them with one less thing to worry about. Click below to make a donation:

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