The Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey (IOOFNJ) has been a longtime supporter of the Howie’s House mission.
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.
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!
“To be able to provide home-cooked meals and improve someone’s day is a great thing to be a part of.” – Jenn Fisher
Jenn Fisher and her family were delighted to start volunteering at the Howie’s House in the new year. Very different from all of their other volunteering endeavors, volunteering at the Howie’s House has a personal meaning to Jenn and her family. Both Jenn and her husband, Trevin, are transplant recipients whose love story began at the World Transplant Games.
Trevin, a pancreas recipient, and Jenn, a heart recipient, both competed at the 2013 World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa. They met on the first day of the games and the rest, as they say, is history. As Jenn explains, “Our transplant stories are very similar and we had an instant bond. The day we got back from South Africa, Trevin booked a ticket to Philadelphia to come visit. And we’ve been together ever since.”
Although the Howie’s House didn’t exist at the time of Jenn or Trevin’s transplant, they both very personally understand the need for such a resource. As Jenn states, “I think the Howie’s House is an amazing support for transplant recipients and their families. We are so appreciative of everything that Gift of Life has done to support us; and we would like to give back in any way possible.”
Understanding all too well the overwhelming feelings associated with the transplant process, Jenn and Trevin wanted use their love of cooking to alleviate some of those difficult feelings for the Howie’s House guests. “I think that people have many emotional connections to food and to be able to provide home-cooked meals and improve someone’s day is a great thing to be a part of.”
Jenn also values how being a Home Cook Hero allows her to interact first-hand with Howie’s House guests. She hopes that her and her husband’s positive transplant experiences and success stories can be of support and motivation for anyone going through their own transplant journey. Speaking with the families, whether patients or caregivers, is the most memorable and meaningful part for Jenn. Inspirational does not begin to describe the guests at the Howie’s House, “It’s amazing how much people can go through and still be smiling and have a positive attitude.”
“The Home Cook Heroes program gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the people we help serve – in real time. Every time we’ve been there, the guests – and staff – have been so grateful for what we do.” – Greg Dommel, Voya Financial
As the clock approaches 6 o’clock, inviting aromas of roasted pork tenderloin, breaded tilapia and berry cobbler beckon guests into the dining room. Even after three main courses, lots of sides and plenty of desserts, there are rarely any leftovers from this particular group’s Home Cook Hero meal!
Since its inception, the Voya Financial team has been nothing but committed. Greg Dommel, their team leader, created the Home Cook Heroes program through his company. Like many employers, Voya Financial strongly encourages staff to get involved in the community, offering incentives to encourage them to take advantage of volunteer opportunities, including 40 hours of paid time each year to volunteer.
The Voya Community Partners initiative presents several opportunities to get involved throughout the year. All opportunities are selected by employee nominations in an effort to interact with organizations and causes important to its employees. Because Gift of Life Howie’s House was near and dear to Greg’s heart, he has been ensuring his company’s involvement in our programs since 2011, when the Howie’s House first opened.
Greg has a close personal connection transplantation, as one of his own family members needed a heart transplant in the early 2000s. He mentioned commuting back and forth from Lancaster to the Philadelphia area for transplant care was a strain on his family. He understands the important need of the Howie’s House and is thankful that families traveling g to Philadelphia for transplant care nowadays have a warm and inviting place to stay.
When the opportunity arose, there was no question in Greg’s mind about where he wanted to direct his time in volunteering. He quickly formed the Voya Financials Home Cook Hero team and was excited to hit the kitchen.
The team’s natural talent to “rebrand” has not gone unnoticed by Howie’s House guests and staff! Greg recalls one day the team was scheduled to volunteer at the Howie’s House, “Mark and I finished off our grocery shopping with a diverse range of desserts including a Mixed Berry Pie with Lattice Top. During the car ride from West Chester to the Howie’s House, contents shifted. When we unpacked our groceries, the pie was still sealed and fresh – but was no longer anything close to being pie-shaped.” Being fast on his feet and thinking with marketing savvy, Mark took the object formerly known as a pie and placed it in a slow cooker. “Just like that, our pie was rebranded as ‘Mixed Berry Cobbler.’ Interestingly, our ‘cobbler’ was one of the most popular items that night!”
Volunteering at the Howie’s House means a lot to the entire Voya Financials team, even beyond having a personal connection to transplant. “It gives us the opportunity to connect directly with the people we help serve – in real time. Every time we’ve been there, the guests – and staff – have been so grateful for what we do.”
For other corporate companies looking to start a team, figuring out where to start can be a challenge. Greg sheds some light on the issue: “I quickly learned to surround myself with people who enjoy cooking. Initially, most of our Home Cook Heroes team came from my Marketing group, but soon expanded to other departments. We have a revolving door of frequent volunteer cooks, but our lead chef, Mark Siciliano, helps coordinate the planning and execution of our meals.”
The Home Cook Heroes program offers a unique and engaging opportunity to get involved in both the local and the transplant community. It provides a chance to engage directly with the people you are helping. Working with your coworkers, family, friends or classmates, groups of up to 10 people can prepare meals (on or off site) and serve them to our guests. Just bring yourself and your food and we will provide everything else in our modern, fully-equipped kitchen. For more information about the Home Cook Heroes program or to sign up, please click here.
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