Angels Among Us
These dedicated New Englanders are making an extraordinary difference in the communities around them.
The Home Maker
In the midst of a crisis, even unbearable tragedy, some people are capable of extraordinary things. Dick Cyr is an example of that. In the summer of 1984, he and his then wife, Gerry, were dealing with unspeakable sadness. After three and a half years of treatment, hope, and pain, their five-year-old boy, David, was dying of leukemia.
They’d been shuttling back and forth between their home in Hartland, Vermont, and the old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire, 25 minutes away, but many families they’d met had traveled hundreds, even thousands, of miles for care. Normalcy had been suspended; they were living out of cars or in waiting rooms. Parents missed work; bills went unpaid. And the struggle to maintain some semblance of a home life for their other kids was often overwhelming. Their situations weighed even on David, who, after being released from the pediatric ward, would implore his dad to bring all the other kids he’d met home with them.
“When your kid is sick, you’re not thinking about eating or sleeping,” Cyr says. “Then three days go by and you realize you need a shower, you need to wash some clothes, you need a rest. Often there isn’t any place to do that. It’s a nightmare.”
Which is why in July of ’84, just two months before David’s passing, a tearful but resolute Dick Cyr told his son’s oncologist, “We’re going to build a home for these families and call it David’s House.”
The idea was as new to Cyr as it was to David’s doctor: “The words just tumbled out of me,” he would later explain. There was no grand plan, and the Cyrs, who had two grown sons and had adopted David when he was an infant, weren’t wealthy. But Cyr was determined to help other families like his as a tribute to his boy’s life. “In 1985 I didn’t have a weekend when I wasn’t speaking somewhere,” he says. “And three or four nights a week, I’d be at a Rotary Club or a Lions Club.”
On January 20, 1986, David’s House opened its doors in a renovated Victorian in downtown Hanover. The house was as Dick had envisioned it: a place that felt more homey than institutional, with inviting spaces with names such as the Bear Room and the Sheep Room. There were private baths, a laundry, and a big kitchen where guests could make a meal after a long day. Families paid what they could to stay there–some paid nothing at all–and were welcome to stay as long as their children needed care. That first night, six families came to David’s House. It’s been full ever since.
Today, David’s House has a newer home, just a half-mile walk from Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s new medical center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. There’s room for 15 families now, with a couple of expansive kitchens, several lounge areas, a screened-in porch, an outdoor playground, and even a teen room complete with bean-bag chairs, a large flat-screen TV, and video games. There’s also a full-time staff and a small army of volunteers who clean, cook, and welcome guests night and day.
Dick Cyr, at 74, is still very much a part of the place, too. He heads up fundraisers (there are plans for another addition in the spring), tells his story, and meets the families who’ve found solace at David’s House.
On one recent Thursday, Dick is giving a tour of the place to a friend. Halfway through, he stops to talk to a young father named Benjamin from Concord, New Hampshire, whose 36-day-old son, Brendin, hasn’t been able to breathe on his own. Benjamin and his wife, Jody, have been here a month. “He okay?” Dick asks.
“Not really,” Benjamin says. “Up and down. It’s been stressful. I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee,” he adds, directing his eyes toward the cup in his right hand. “But I’d be living in my car if it weren’t for this place. Everybody here is amazing. It’s felt like home. In fact, that’s what my wife and I call it. At the end of the day, we say, ‘Let’s go home.'”
For more on David’s House, visit: davids-house.org
The Artist’s Touch
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