Sharon Dickson, Family House Guest

Caregivers and Gratitude: A Case Study

Everyone at SECU Family House experiences some level of gratitude each day – feelings one gets when they find themselves in unexpected circumstances while surrounded by folks who care deeply.  The volunteers and staff have the privilege of experiencing first-hand a range of emotions shared by our guests, oftentimes in the form of a simple “thank you,” confidences shared over a meal, a smile across the kitchen, or a warm hug.

In our two plus years of operation, we’ve been privy to the sacrifices that so many of our caregivers make in order to care for their loved ones—spouses  taking care of spouses, friends lending a helping hand, adult children caring for a sick parent.

Sharon Dickson has been a guest at Family House for nearly two weeks, having left her job and family in Omaha, Nebraska, to care for her sister, Paula, from Vanceboro, NC, while she undergoes treatment for a rare myeloma.  She wanted to make sure that her sister had sufficient help, so she dropped everything to be here for Paula.

When asked what Family House has meant to her, Sharon says: “Oh my goodness.  The people at Family House are so friendly.  Everyone is warm.  We’re all having problems, yet the people here have made a difference.  The experience is more than I can put into words.  I’ve never experienced such hospitality.  I just want to say thank you so much.”

For the staff and volunteers here, the gratitude is reciprocal, and reminds us daily of why we’re here and what’s most important in life.  Thank you, Sharon.

Family House Mugs for Sale

Also, newly designed mugs are for sale! – have fun choosing what you’d like to use for your coffee, tea, hot cider or hot chocolate.

Thank you for contributing to SECU Family House by purchasing one or more of these unique designs.

Thank you to former board member Mark Zack for designing these three great mugs.

Your Next Vacation...for the Highest Bid



Windy City Wow!

Live large for two nights at the Hotel Dana, a four-star boutique hotel, winner of four 2010 Best of Citysearch Awards—Best Boutique Hotel, Best Business Hotel, Comfiest Hotel Bed, and Best Luxury Hotel. “Built to impress,” raves Forbes. “Everyone needs pampering now and again.” Thrill to the city’s lights with a view from floor-to-ceiling windows. Take a sip from your room’s fully-stocked wine-chiller and dig tunes on your room’s Zeppelin—Bowers & Wilkins Sound System. Cruise to dreamland on 300 count 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets. Get way wet with spa-inspired rain showerheads. Dine at the hotel’s restaurant’s greenmarket fusion Asian restaurant aja serving sustainable seafood. Located in the downtown River North district. Donated by Hotel Dana

Photo courtesy of Hotel Dana

Three Nights in Carolina Beach, N.C.

Nineteen miles south of Wilmington, the quaint, yet thriving, village of Carolina Beach tells visitors “It’s Always Play Time!” You’ll love this comfy, cozy time-out for three nights. Soak in the ocean and waterway views from your five bedroom vacation headquarters. Fabulous for a family getaway or an escape with friends. Sleeps 14 with two king beds, two queens, one bunk bed, two pull-outs, and a convertible queen. Bask in the sun at the nearby beach or enjoy the condo’s salt-water pool and huge back yard. Melt away relaxing in the jetted hot tub or just sit a spell on the porch swing. Learn more about the many joys of Carolina Beach. This 1950s-style beach town boasts one of the nation’s last beach boardwalks. Whether you ride the ferris wheel, go for coffee and a treat at legendary Britt’s Donuts, go deep-sea fishing for king mackerel, you’ll forget your cares. Donated by Kim and Jim Schmidlin

Photo courtesy of Schmidlins

Doubletree Guest Suites – Historic District, Charleston, South Carolina

Enjoy a carriage ride to fine dining, King Street antique shops and boutiques, antebellum mansions, the historic homes of Rainbow Row from your suite at the Doubletree Charleston-Historic District Hotel. Your two-night weekend stay at this AAA Triple Diamond Hotel gives you dining at the hotel’s award-winning Hanks Seafood Restaurant, a fitness center, and stylish and cozy accommodations. For more on this perfectly located hotel in the historic district, visit the hotel’s Web site. Donated by Doubletree Guest Suites

Charleston's Historic District

Adventure Weekend at Wintergreen Resort

Get your friends and family together for a long weekend trip to Wintergreen, VA, and stay at this 6-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom home with 4 woodburning fireplaces. There is plenty to see and do at the Resort (tennis, golf, swimming), and gorgeous mountains to climb everywhere you look. Donated by Richard and Susan Beatty

Photo courtesy of Wintergreen Resort

Tuscany, Italy – Villa in Via del Pizzicore

Savor your glass of wine as you take in the views of Tuscan hills from your balcony in this three-floor villa with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Renovated and restored, enjoy the balance of original stone walls with modern technology in this elegantly and simply furnished home.  Both structural enhancements and small creative touches have been added throughout the home by the villa’s owner, a sculptor. Should you choose to venture beyond your Italian retreat during your week long stay, villages and vineyards will be waiting for you, as will the Tuscan capital, Florence. Donated by Siglinda Scarpa, an Italian sculptor whose generosity is most often directed toward the Goathouse Refuge, a no-kill cat shelter in Pittsboro, North Carolina

Photo courtesy of Siglinda Scarpa

Blue Ridge Experience at Blowing Rock

Snuggle up at this 2-bedroom cottage with a fireplace and modern amenities in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. There are several hiking trails nearby, as well as Ski Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Be sure to visit the Moses Cone Mansion/Parkway Craft Center and take home a great piece of art to remind you of your wonderful week in Blowing Rock. Donated by Keith and Dana Pearsall

Photo courtesy of Pearsall Family

Pure Pleasure at Charleston’s Francis Marion Hotel

One of America’s Historic Hotels, at the Francis Marion Hotel, you’ll experience gracious living and unsurpassed views of the historic harbor in Charleston, SC. Home to sophisticated travelers, this grand hotel in the historic district offers concierge service, a full-service spa live jazz piano, and classic Southern dining from Chef de Cuisine Ryan Kacenjar renowned for his farm-fresh selections of local seasonal delicacies. Your two-night weekend stay will be plush, literally, as you’ll slumber on European-style bedding with overstuffed duvets and down pillows. Donated by Francis Marion Hotel

Rainbow Row in Charleston

Carolina Dunes on Myrtle Beach
Pack your bags! You’re going to enjoy a full week in an oceanfront, 3-bedroom condo. You’ll also have access to the swimming pool and hot tub, and most amenities available to all guests of buildings that are a part of Caravelle Resort. If you’ve never been to Myrtle Beach or if you’re a long time visitor, stroll the boardwalk, rated the nation’s third best by National Geographic magazine; get wet at Myrtle Waves, one of the east coast’s largest waterparks, clap your hands at the Carolina Opry, or tour the huge entertainment complexes at Broadway on the Beach and the Freestyle Music Park. Donated by Frank and Shelayne Sutton

Photo courtesy of

Sea Marsh Condo in Cherry Grove, South Carolina
Five days in a 6th floor, 3-bedroom oceanfront corner condo should easily chase your troubles away. Easy access to the beach and plenty to do in the area! Have a great time! Donated by Pat and Eddie Williams

Photo courtesy of The Beach & Company

Dutch Saint Maarten – Divi Little Bay Beach Resort

Enjoy one week of beachside bliss with your whole family or just your sweetheart. You will be within easy reach of the shops, restaurants, and casinos of Philipsburg, but you may not want to leave the Resort with all there is to do—swim in of the three the pools, relax at the full service spa, claim victory at the tennis courts, or explore your inner dolphin at the water sports center. In between activities, recharge at one of three Resort restaurants or pick up a snack at the guest grocery. Donated by EJ and Martha Schanfarber

Photo courtesy of Divi Resorts

Festivals and Fun at Wintergreen Resort

Spend four nights with friends and family in this beautiful 5-bedroom, 4 full and 2 half bath home in Wintergreen, Virginia. You can opt to visit during ski season or plan to take in wonderful sights and sounds at the famous Wintergreen Music Festival that happens every summer. Donated by Dennis and Lynda Howell

Photo Courtesy of

One Week of Luxury in Cabo San Lucas

Treat yourself to an incredible week-long stay in the Presidential Suite on Sunset Beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. With 2 bedrooms (1 king and 1 queen), you can opt to travel with friends or keep it all to yourselves. Soak up the rays while enjoying the hot tub or one of three pools. Relax with a game of tennis or a massage at the Spa. Dine at La Frida gourmet restaurant or prep your own meal in your fully equipped kitchen with yummy ingredients from the nearby deli. Or, you can just enjoy the ocean view from your balcony. Ah, the good things in life… Donated by Tom and Mary Alice Eckman

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Photo courtesy of Eckman Family

Cottage Life in Newland, North Carolina

Indulge your adventurous side by placing a bid on this four-night stay in a cottage on Linville River. Twenty minutes from Grandfather Mountain, this idyllic setting provides many comforts of home (it has a TV but you probably won’t need it) and serves as a great getaway. Donated by John and Anna Haber

Photo courtesy of John and Anna Haber

Fine Dining and Accommodations at Fearrington Inn

Celebrating an anniversary or other special occasion soon? Enjoy dinner and an overnight stay (donated by Jeff and Janis Tillman) at the beautiful Fearrington Inn. More interested in pancakes? We also have an overnight stay with breakfast instead of dinner at Fearrington to offer (donated by R. B. Fitch Creations).

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Photo courtesy of Fearrington Inn

See the Sea Sparkle…

… during your week-long stay at the Hotel Finnisterra in exotic Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Perched on a hill, the hotel overlooks the town and sports magical views of the Sea of Cortez to the east and the Pacific to the west. Best of all, the hotel gives guests an intimate feeling of seclusion. The secluded seven-acre private beach offers guests the spectacular Palapa Beach Club and a lavish pool, all in an exquisite natural setting. Enjoy the Whale Watcher Bar, the critically acclaimed Blue Marlin restaurant, a boutique, and gym. See the nearby famous El Arco rock formation and walk to downtown Cabo San Lucas and its marina. You’ll dream away the hours in original low-rise section of this legendary hotel built into the rock cliff.  Your room will have a balcony with a great view.

At the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas is 1,000 miles south of the San Diego. A variety of boat cruises can be arranged, including romantic catamaran trips, sportfishing, yachting, glass bottom boats, and sailing charters. Five world-class golf courses, including three designed by Jack Nicklaus, are nearby. Donated by Don Ryan

Photo courtesy of Cabo Travel

Dunescape Villas on Atlantic Beach

Wow! A Monday to Sunday stay at this 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath condo on the beach. Kick back and take a few days just do nothing because you’ll have plenty of play days available, too! Donated by Edward and Margaret Holmes

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Beach Realty

Thank you to all of our vacation donors and those who helped us find these wonderful trips!

John & Ruth Lopez, Family House Guests

“You can’t control the disease but you can control your life.”  Such is the case with Sergeant John Lopez, a retired Army paratrooper who was diagnosed with hemangiopericytoma this past May.  This soft tissue benign sarcoma, a form of cancer that aggressively develops in certain cells, left John’s brain swollen and rendered him unable to work. He had to leave his job as a contractor in Japan and return home to Fayetteville, NC, for additional tests and consequent treatments at UNC.

But this is not a story about John’s cancer, but a story about how controlling one’s life is just as powerful as the medical care he received at UNC. John and Ruth, his wife of 26 years, stayed at SECU Family house for seven weeks.  During their stay, John had surgery to remove the tumor and then underwent several weeks of radiation.  When I first met Ruth, she was busy in the kitchen speaking with some house guests. I thought she was a new volunteer because she seemed so comfortable in her temporary home.  In the ensuing weeks, both she and John became fixtures during meals, conversing with newly made friends, and helping out wherever they could.  Ruth became involved in a weekly knitting group that had been started by one of our many talented volunteers, Sharon Coop. Ruth and six other women learned how to knit and gained solace from the time spent together.

Before John and Ruth heard about SECU Family House, Ruth slept in their car to save money while John received his treatments.  Thanks to an alert hospital volunteer, John and Ruth were finally referred to Family House.  Ruth says, “You get close to people being here.  The atmosphere is relaxing.  You feel the warmth from the cleaning crew, volunteers and staff.”   She goes on to say that being at the House was a form of “therapy”—that a “connection” is made with the guests because they “understand each other.”  She and John collected several e-mail addresses and phone numbers before they went home to Fayetteville.

For John and Ruth, this has been a journey sustained by a strong faith and deep love for one another.  “We never go to bed angry.  We enjoy helping each other.  We feel blessed.”  They are in control of their lives in the face of adversity, while expressing thanks and gratitude for SECU Family House and the good life that they have.

Sharon Coop, Volunteer

A minister once told Sharon, “When you share pain, you share love,”and she has been sharing both with Family House guests.

Before she joined us as a volunteer, Sharon Coop (in purple in the center of the photo above) envisioned a need in Chapel Hill for a place like Family House. When she found out that the House was being built, she immediately knew that this is where she wanted to be.  Her past work as a home health nurse, spiritual director and Stephen minister had prepared her for it, and she has worked a weekly shift at the front desk since the House opened in March of 2008.

From that perch, she saw the need to create a unique environment of emotional and tangible support to some of Family House’s guests, so she started a “Prayer & Meditation” group that meets once a week at night.

Guests appreciated the opportunity to participate, and they supported each other, told their stories, laughed and cried together and were reminded of their church life at home.  Sharon facilitated the group, provided a weekly lesson, and offered the time and the space for sharing or quiet reflection.

As part of this special ministry, she provided a series of small flyers called “Care Notes” which covered various topics regarding illness.  These were made available for guests to take with them.  In addition, Sharon and friends, including those in her church group, knit pocket shawls (pocket-sized versions of prayer shawls) for guests to keep as a reminder of the support and encouragement offered by the anonymous knitters to family members in crisis.

Realizing that, for many people, knitting serves as both a release of pent-up energy and a form of relaxation, Sharon then decided to offer knitting classes. Yarns, Etc. in Chapel Hill donated yarns and needles to be used by Family House guests.  Sharon now meets twice a week with guests for a knitting circle, and our guests have told us that the time shared has been both fun and therapeutic.

Sharon’s husband taught educational psychology at UNC and is currently working with athletes as a sports psychologist.  She has three children – a daughter who is an endocrinologist in Charlotte, a daughter who teaches clinical psychology at the University of Tennessee, and a son who has his own business in Raleigh.

We are fortunate to have Sharon Coop serve us and our families as a volunteer!

"Home and Away" House Party

2010 “Home and Away” House Party, to benefit SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals

PICTURES ARE UP! Be sure to check them out soon and place your orders. A portion of the cost of each photo will be donated back to Family House.

Thank you to:

Diane Douglass Photography

Specializing in children and family portraiture

Life is a series of moments, capture them!

What an incredible evening! THANK YOU to all who attended Friday evening’s House Party, an outstanding fundraiser to benefit the patients and families who stay at Family House while receiving treatment at UNC Hospitals.

320 guests arrived to dine, dance, play casino games, and bid on exciting trips and pledge to support families who stay at the House. The Live Auction of trips to Tuscany, St. Maarten, and Cabo San Lucas, as well as stays at the Fearrington Inn and Doubletree in Charleston, raised $23,000. Individual pledges of $500, $250 and $100 raised an additional $22,700.  The Silent Auction of other great trips added $8,500 to top off an amazing evening of fundraising. Grand total raised on Friday evening: $54,200.

Truly, we are so grateful to all those attended the 2010 ‘Home and Away’ House Party for their energy and generosity that made the evening such a success (with a special thanks to our Event Volunteers who set the stage for a fabulous night of celebration and philanthropy). Combining the funds raised on Friday evening with sponsorships and registration fees, over $150,000 has been pledged to SECU Family House through the House Party event to provide an affordable, safe, nurturing home away from home for seriously ill patients, their family members, and caregivers from throughout North Carolina and beyond.

List of 2010 “Home and Away” House Party Sponsors

Click here to fulfill your $500, $250 or $100 pledge to support our families

You can also call 919-932-8004 to make your payment over the phone, or you can send a check (written to SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals) by mail to 123 Old Mason Farm Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27517.

SECU Family House Opens to Patients and Loved Ones

HouseDedicationAfter a year and a half of construction, and seven years of fundraising, planning, and preparation, SECU Family House opened to guests on March 31. In our first eight weeks of operation, we have served 178 individual patients and families, and provided a total of 1098 guest stays to 353 guests (including 44 children) from 54 counties in North Carolina and beyond.

Families are absolutely thrilled to be staying in such a beautiful, spacious “home away from home.” They have been moved to express their gratitude and appreciation to the staff in a multitude of ways. One guest gratefully exclaimed upon checkout, “This is the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. I feel like I have been staying at a resort – only better, with new friends.”

Guests have demonstrated a sense of pride and ownership about Family House, treating it the way they would their own favorite possessions. They have served as an intimate community to one another, sharing the responsibility of cooking meals, cleaning, and making coffee for other guests in the morning. Some have gathered together for prayer or reflection. Others have huddled in the hearth room, swapping stores, fears, hopes, and dreams, and exchanging the day’s medical news – the heartbreaks and triumphs. They have been each other’s best support.

Reflecting on the first weeks of being open, Operations Manager Janice Ross says, “It is gratifying to see what a difference this House is making. People have cried with relief and gratitude. It is wonderful to be here.”

SECU Family House looks forward to accommodating more guests in the future as we expand our capacity to serve families in desperate need of a uniquely peaceful and welcoming place.

SECU Family House Loses Major Benefactor: William Grimes Clark III Dies at 74

William G. Clark III of Tarboro, who together with his wife Gray made a $500,000 gift to the SECU Family House campaign, died on March 30th after surgery to repair his back. The Clark’s gift to Family House was the largest single gift made by an individual or family.

Bill is survived by his loving wife, Gray; a son, William G. Clark IV, and his wife, Tiffany; a daughter, Gray Clark Stoughton and her husband, Tommy; many grandchildren and nieces; and a score of loving friends and admirers.

The courtyard at SECU Family House has been named for the Clarks, in honor of Bill’s dad and granddad, William G. Clark, Jr., and William G. Clark, respectively. The impression Bill Clark made here at Family House will endure in the gratitude that it inspires among our patients and family members who gather here for many years to come.

Major Gifts Cap Off Successful $8.2M Campaign

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation (BCBSNC Foundation) has made a contribution of $250,000 to SECU Family House, bringing our capital and endowment campaign total to $8.2M. The BCBSNC Foundation investment will be used to help offset the costs of lodging for families who cannot afford even the marginal contribution that the House requests from its guests.

“The BCBSNC Foundation wants to help ensure that any family, regardless of financial circumstance, enjoys the comforts, support, and services provided by SECU Family House,” says Kathy Higgins, BCBSNC Foundation President. “We are pleased to support both SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals and the vulnerable populations that it serves.”

Other recent major gifts that have propelled the campaign to its successful close include an Economic Development Initiative of $171,500 sponsored by Congressman David Price (NC-09); anonymous gifts of $50,000 and $25,000; a $50,000 contribution from the Leith Automotive Family; a $25,000 in-kind gift of office equipment from Corporate Express; a gift of $35,000 from David and Carol Callahan; and a gift of $25,000 from Steve Mills, in memory of his wife, Nancy Kitt Mills.

These combined gifts drove the campaign past its stated goal of $7.5M and provided an operating reserve to carry us through part of our first year. They have also made up for unanticipated building expenses on the 33,000 square foot facility. The SECU Family House board of directors inherits a brand new, beautiful 40-bedroom hospitality house that carries absolutely no debt. We have a small reserve and the beginnings of a healthy endowment. We hope to be well on the way to securing our own financial health while contributing to the health and healing of so many families in medical crisis.

Board Dedicates SECU Family House: 350 Guests Join In Celebration

DedicationPhotoPorchOn May 8, 2008, at 5:00 on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, the SECU Family House Board of Directors dedicated its new 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house and ushered in a new approach to adult critical care at UNC Hospitals.

Three hundred and fifty guests joined President Katie Early and President-elect Tom Shea, MD, in the William G. III and Gray Clark Courtyard to celebrate the House’s mission, bless its activities, and listen to remarks from those who provided the primary institutional gifts to the $8.2M capital and endowment campaign.

DedicationPhotoKingThose who shared remarks about what drove their support of SECU Family House include David King (Chairman, SECU Foundation), Representative Verla Insko (NC General Assembly, D-56, Orange County), Dr. William L. Roper, (CEO, UNC Health Care System), and Bob Greczyn (Chairman, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation).

DedicationPhotoJackCarrollThe final speaker was retired Marine Colonel Jack Carroll, a recent recipient of a bone marrow transplant, who had spent the past five weeks at the House. Jack brought the assembled crowd to a standing ovation. On his 100th post-transplant day, Jack spoke passionately about the excellent care he had received at UNC Hospitals—at every level—and assured those present that Family House is an integral and essential part of that care. His concern, as patient, had been primarily for the comfort and security of his wife Sara. Family House had provided a sense of psychological well-being for them both as they moved toward increased physical wholeness and healing.

DedicationRibbonCuttingThe moving celebration concluded with a ceremonial cutting of the ribbon around the columns in the Clark Courtyard. Despite Bill Clark’s recent death (see more about Bill Clark in the Donor News section), Gray Clark and her son, Bill Clark IV, and daughter, Gray Clark Stoughton, as well as several of Bill and Gray Clark’s grandchildren, were on hand for the ceremony.

UNC Health Care sponsored the entire event, providing all the food and the transportation to and from Family House from nearby parking provided by St. Thomas More Catholic Church.