HOLDEN, Maine — The financial future of a Holden hospitality house for adults undergoing cancer treatment nearby is much brighter, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine.
The million-dollar boost for Sarah’s House — along with two more gifts — was announced Tuesday afternoon during a gathering in the great room of the sprawling white building that formerly was a retail furniture showroom.
Now it is a residence with accommodations for up to nine adult cancer patients and their companions, as well as shared space for cooking, eating, meeting, doing laundry — whatever one would expect in a home away from home.
“This gift from Next Generation Foundation provides Sarah’s House with financial security and will keep us true to our mission of serving cancer patients and their families receiving treatment at Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Cancer Care in Brewer,” Ben Robinson, president of the Sarah’s House board, said.
Next Generation also recently contributed $2 million to The Aroostook Medical Center for expanded care and services for cancer patients in northern Maine.
Sarah’s House started as a dream of Robinson’s wife, Sarah Robinson, a young wife, mother and Old Town Rotarian who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010.
Sarah and Ben needed to travel from Old Town to Boston for her treatment. Through that experience, they learned about places where cancer patients could stay for little or no cost during treatment, according to Sarah’s House of Maine’s website.
When Sarah returned to the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, she met patients who, like her, traveled hundreds of miles and spent hours in the car, driving from Maine’s most rural areas for treatment.
Before she died in December 2011, Sarah brought together a group of Maine Rotarians, cancer survivors, civic leaders and treatment providers who formed a nonprofit corporation to take on the task.
Lindsay Turner, Sarah’s identical twin and fundraising chairwoman, is another of Sarah’s House driving forces.
“We’ve actually had a really, really good year so far, and it’s early,” Turner said Tuesday.
Turner said Sarah’s House supporters knew it was a long shot when they applied for the funding, noting the application process was extremely competitive with some 800 applicants.
“We knew that if we got it it would be a serious game changer for Sarah’s House,” she said.
The price tag for Sarah’s House is $3.4 million, which includes an endowment designed to cover operating costs, Turner said. Another $1.2 million remains to be raised, she said.
Also on Tuesday, representatives from Darling’s Auto Group delivered a custom-designed Dodge Caravan outfitted with the Sarah’s House logo.
“Now there’s a Sarah’s House Mobile that will be around the Bangor area, helping patients get to and from treatment if they need it,” Turner said. “We’re really, really thankful to the Darling’s folks for making that happen.”
To complement the passenger van, Casella Waste Systems contributed a card good for a year’s worth of gas.
The gathering also served as an opportunity to introduce house manager Delores Landry, Sarah’s House’s first and only staff employee.
Landry said she knew Sarah Robinson from their days as area real estate agents.
“I just want to say that I’m totally honored to be in this position,” she said. “I knew Sarah personally, and I know how important this project was to her. To be in this house every day and look at her picture is just amazing, so thank you.”
Dianne Porter of the Calais area and her daughter Traci Hammett were among those who were staying at Sarah’s House on Tuesday.
The commute from her Washington County home would have been two or more hours one way, she noted.
Porter said she is in her fourth week of cancer treatment and that her daughter traveled from Dearborn, Michigan, to be with her.
Porter’s impressions of Sarah’s House?
“It’s awesome. It’s more than I ever imagined,” she said. “It’s my home away from home. It’s not home, but it’s the next best thing to it.”