A Bronx native is reflecting on his foundation’s expansion of bringing refuge to families of wounded veterans receiving care in New York.
Any time the Fisher House Foundation adds to its current roster of 91 “Fisher Houses” for military and veteran families, Ken Fisher gets excited. As the chairman and CEO of his family’s foundation that hosts these families for free near VA hospitals while their loved ones recover, that’s part of his job. But when the foundation cut the ribbon on a new location in New York City, it meant something extra-special to him because of his personal ties to the Bronx.
“To know that the Bronx Fisher House is a part of a network of homes that took care of 13,000 families in 2020 alone, it’s really gratifying to me personally,” said Fisher, a third-generation leader of one of America’s most successful family-owned real estate development and management companies. “I’m blessed to know the Bronx is playing a role in this and staying true to our mission.”
That mission began in 1990 when Fisher’s uncle noticed the need for quality temporary housing for relatives of wounded service members. Called “comfort homes,” each Fisher House consists of seven to 21 family suites where parents, spouses, and children can stay while their military member is receiving treatment at a nearby VA hospital, or coming home for the last time in a dignified transfer. More than 413,000 families have stayed at a Fisher House, saving a total of $525 million in transportation and lodging costs.
Given its population and proximity to James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx, building a new Fisher House — two buildings, technically — in Fisher’s native borough just made sense. Costing approximately $17 million, the homes officially opened in May 2019. Each house boasts 16 wheelchair-accessible rooms, a communal kitchen, a patio and living, dining, and laundry spaces.
And just as importantly, the architecture and interior design of the Bronx Fisher House is “distinctly Bronx,” said Fisher, incorporating elements from local neighborhoods into its design.
“It’s important to me to be able to say that these Fisher Houses are uniquely New York,” said Fisher. “I’m not going to fool with you, I wanted this house to be special.”
Part of what makes the Bronx Fisher House so special is its staff, including house manager Ellen Trbovich. Her job revolves around making sure everything in the House is running smoothly, from asking guests if they need fresh towels to running her finger along artwork for dust and checking expiration dates on pantry items.
“My favorite part is when we get new guests, because when they walk through the door, they just cannot believe how spacious, how gorgeous, how clean and high-end our rooms are,” she said. “I never get tired of hearing, ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t expect it to be this nice! And in the Bronx!’”
Trbovich recalled one couple who came to stay at the Bronx Fisher House while the husband underwent cardiac surgery. The wife was pregnant, and Trbovich didn’t like the idea of her traipsing alone up and down subway stairs all day. So Fisher House provided her an Uber gift card.
It’s just what Fisher House does, she says, is take care of the people who have sacrificed so much to take care of her freedom.
“I’m the daughter, niece, and cousin to a long line of veterans in my family, and it’s an honor to work here,” said Trbovich. “I’ve worked in the VA system for 32 years, and this by far is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”
Despite working in a military-related charity for decades, Fisher is still moved when pondering his motivation.
“You can never say enough about those who wear or have worn the uniform and the people who stand behind them,” he said. “It’s time for us to reflect on the sacrifice and burden that has been borne for us. If Fisher House has a role in that, even better.”