Adele Gelfand opens the door to a shed outside of Brent’s Place and reveals a sprawling, jumbled rainbow of soaps, cleansers, mops, sponges and seemingly endless gallons of bleach.
“Clorox is a noun, verb and adjective around here,” says Gelfand, the director of the non-profit organization that aims to provide germ-free housing for families of children fighting cancer.
Brent’s Place is part of the Brent Eley Foundation, which was founded in 1997 by Donn and Linda Eley, the parents of a young boy who lost his battle with cancer after a bone marrow transplant.
The Eleys, who had traveled to Iowa from Denver for Brent’s treatment, wanted to help other families going through what they had. Because Children’s Hospital in Denver is the only facility in the Rocky Mountain region that performs bone marrow transplants on children, families often must travel hundreds of miles for treatment that can last months. Brent’s Place, which consists of an administrative house and several small apartment buildings located near the hospital, allows these children and their families to stay in “safe clean” apartments for a small donation and in some cases for free.
“Safe clean” is the term used by Brent’s Place staffers for the level of cleanliness necessary to protect children with compromised immune systems from infection. That means there are no ledges or other places dust can gather, each apartment has its own heating and cooling system and every time a toy is used in the common area, it’s wiped down with bleach. In fact, just about everything at Brent’s Place can be wiped down with bleach.
But the apartments are bright, modern and most importantly, just blocks from the hospital.
“It allows the families to be in a home-like environment, but yet they can get the care they need very quickly,” Gelfand says.
Besides trying to keep kids free from infections, Brent’s Place provides a much needed, affordable place for their families to be together.
“We are focused on trying to maintain the integrity of the whole family unit,” Gelfand says. “Because with this kind of illness, it can really be devastating for families.”
Often, when a child comes to Denver for treatment, only one parent can make the trip for an extended period of time while the other stays home to work. The parent staying home is usually the one with better health insurance.
When members of a family must temporarily move to another city for medical treatment, they often need the kind of help offered by Brent’s Place.
“The cost to families is very significant,” Gelfand says. “There’s often one lost income, and out-of-pocket expenses while living far away can be unmanageable.”
Families staying at Brent’s Place are responsible for their own clothing and most of their food. Everything else, including linens, dishes and cleaning products, is provided by Brent’s Place.
Families are asked to contribute $15 a day for their stay, but some aren’t able to pay at all. But contributions from the families don’t keep Brent’s Place afloat. The organization has a budget of about $700,000 a year, Gelfand says. Most of that is raised through a series of fund-raisers and is supplemented by community grants.
Brent’s Place will hold its final fund-raiser of the year Oct. 19. The Roadless Ride, a series of 12 one-hour spinning classes, will be at the Greenwood Athletic Club. And although every fund-raiser is important, this one is needed to meet a very important goal.
Because the Children’s Hospital is moving to a site adjacent to the new University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Fitzsimmons Campus in Aurora, Brent’s Place is moving too. The Sept. 10 groundbreaking will kick off construction on a new 28,000 square-foot Brent’s Place facility near Fitzsimmons. The organization has raised about 88 percent of the $7.5 million it needs to complete the project. Hopefully, Gelfand says, the Roadless Ride fund-raiser will help them meet their goal.
But although Brent’s Place is always in need of financial help, Gelfand is happy to accept other offers. One man sometimes donates a suite at sporting events. Watching from a cleaned, private suite is the only way many of the kids at Brent’s Place can attend games. It’s easy to see how much that means to them.
One three-year-old boy is leaving his apartment with his mother and grandmother when he sees Gelfand and announces that he’s going to the Broncos game. The game is still two days away, but the boy is ecstatic with anticipation.
Activities such as this help Brent’s Place provide a safe and supportive environment for families coping with devastating illnesses.
“It’s very significant and takes them a long time to recover,” Gelfand says of the families she helps. “Emotionally, I don’t know if some of the parents ever recover.”