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Anna’s Homes: Providing Hope and Refuge for Families Fighting Childhood Cancer

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Anna’s Homes: Providing Hope and Refuge for Families Fighting Childhood Cancer

News Story by Megan Guido | FāVS News

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, Polly Schindler says “the whole family is diagnosed.”

Polly and Joe Schindler, from Post Falls, Idaho, know firsthand from their own experience. Their 6-year-old daughter, Anna, was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma (liver cancer) in 2010. Anna received long, intensive treatment at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane. She passed away three days after her seventh birthday.

Joe and Polly Schindler / Contributed

After Anna’s passing, the Schindlers had a strong desire to help families, many who live hours away from Spokane, who are going through the challenge of finding housing when their child is sick and receiving cancer treatment.

Often families stay in nearby motels or short-term rentals, which are expensive. Other options, like the Ronald McDonald house, can be full or may be a concern if your child is immunocompromised.

The Schindlers formed the Anna Schindler Foundation with a vision to build homes close to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital for families to stay — regardless of how many people or for how long — free of charge.

“We drove around looking for lots (to build) for years,” Polly Schindler said.

In 2015, they found the right lots that were large enough to eventually expand. They also received a big check from an anonymous donor to help purchase the lots.

In 2017, Phase I of Anna’s Homes was completed. Since that time, 40 families have stayed at these single-family respite homes, the only one of their kind in Spokane.

Phase II Being Built by People with Personal Stories of Children with Cancer

The non-profit Anna Schindler Foundation, directed by Joe Schindler, the president, and Polly Schindler, the vice president, is now ready to build Phase II of Anna’s Homes.

Phase II will consist of four additional individual family townhomes next to the original two townhomes located on 2326 E. 28th Ave. in Spokane near Sacred Heart Hospital.

Many businesses from Spokane and the surrounding area are coming together to build these houses at a discounted price or at no cost at all. Some of these business owners have their own personal stories of having children with cancer.

Anna Schindler Foundation
Exterior of one of Anna’s Homes / Contributed

“It’s the community that is building these homes, businesses and individuals who are passionate about helping families with children with cancer or have gone through it themselves,” said Kathryn Steele, operations officer with The Anna Schindler Foundation.

Steele herself experienced what families go through when her son was diagnosed with cancer and went through treatment at Sacred Heart. He died at nine months old.

“Polly is very passionate about providing a family connection,” Steele said. “It’s so important to the families that they are working with someone who has gone through it.”

The First Family to Benefit from Anna’s Homes

The Harner family from Moscow, Idaho, was the first family to stay at Anna’s Homes.

Cat Harner’s son Thomas was born at the end of 2016 and was diagnosed with leukemia days after. From there, the family spent hundreds of days either in the hospital, in nearby hotels, in an apartment and in a few VRBOs.

“Anywhere that would allow us to stay close by as a family,” Harner said.

At the time, Harner’s children were aged two, four and six.

“Staying in a hotel for weeks at a time was expensive and with three small children, to say it was cramped and chaotic was an understatement. There was no normalcy. I felt like we couldn’t catch our breath,” she said.

She learned about Anna’s Homes in the hospital while Thomas was getting treatment.

“From the moment I crossed the threshold at Anna’s Home, I felt like I was actually home. My children had their own beds with their own rooms. Thomas had room to play and roam, and I could do our laundry,” Harner said. “If grandparents came, they had their own place to stay, in addition to the master bedroom, which could house Tommy’s crib and all his medical equipment. I could adequately mother my children again. I could cook dinner for my kids. I could snuggle on the couch. It was clean. It was put together with so much love and care.”

‘A Labor of Love’

Polly Schindler said she designed the homes with an eye toward what a family with a sick child needed. Examples included direct sight lines from the kitchen to the bedroom, enough space for rollaway beds, doorways that are wide enough for wheelchairs and outlets that are at the same height as a wheelchair.

Anna Schindler Foundation
Interior of one of Anna’s Homes / Contributed

Polly Schindler and her husband, who have eight children, say their work is a labor of love.

Along their journey, something unexpected happened. Polly Schindler explained that they adopted one of their children after spending time with him at the same hospital where Anna was getting treatment. He had the same type of liver cancer as Anna and was in foster care. Today, that same boy is getting ready to graduate high school.

“From tragedy comes goodness,” she said.

Giving Back What’s Needed Most: Hope

Harner agrees. She regularly works to raise awareness of childhood cancer. The Anna Schindler Foundation website cites every day in the United States, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer remains the number one cause for death by disease in America.

Harner gives back to the Anna Schindler Foundation through fundraising events as well. Every year she raises money for the Foundation by organizing local Childhood Cancer 5K Runs in September and a Turkey Trot 5K Run on Thanksgiving with proceeds supporting the Anna Schindler Foundation.

“I will never stop trying to give back or advocating, as it serves as a connection to Tommy that I am desperate to keep,” she said.

She continued, “The expansion of these homes will be life changing for these other families. To have somewhere to unpack, to put presents under a Christmas tree, to live under the same roof and go through a daily routine — it’s what most take for granted and what we missed the most as a family. Anna’s Homes gave back one of the most precious things you desperately need throughout this long journey: hope.”

Megan Guido
Megan Guido
Megan Guido has lived in Pullman for most of her life and serves her community as a member of Pullman City Council. Her work and education is grounded in public service. She holds two degrees, a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and a Master’s in Public Administration for the Institute of Public Service at Seattle University. She retired from working at Pullman Regional Hospital for more than 20 years in Community Relations. She now works part-time as an Outreach Coordinator at Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Pullman and does freelance marketing and communications. Additionally, she is a certified Color Code communications trainer and life coach.

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