Imagine arriving to a new, strange city the size of Houston while coming to terms with a critical illness diagnosis and the prospect of advanced medical treatment ahead. It’s a daunting time for anyone in these circumstances and thankfully the Palmer Place Apartments Resident Check-In and Check-Out Team understands that.
The members of this ministry not only welcome Texas Medical Center patients to Houston, they literally open the doors to the safe, comfortable and affordable Palmer Place apartments that the patients and their families will call home during their stay. They are points of contact that connect patients to a space of comfort and security. They greet patients when they arrive, and they help them to get on their way back home when their treatment is concluded, both important transitional times full of nervousness and tender feelings.
The members of the Check-In and Check-Out Team volunteer for this compassionate ministry for varying reasons. Here are the people who provide this service and how they came to be part of the effort.
John Gealy and Sondra Maxfield
John and Sondra worked in the Way Station Ministry and were looking for a new way to do outreach work alongside other kind-hearted people. John calls it an “aha moment” when they decided to find out about Palmer Place having seen it occasionally mentioned in the church’s weekly newsletter. That was five years ago and Sondra and John have been on the team ever since.
In addition to finishing the necessary paperwork for the rentals, he and other team members provide directions to the Medical Center, grocery stores, cultural and entertainment centers if there is time, and of course, invitations to come to Palmer and its services. If he senses a guest would like to talk, he’ll make conversation about their medical journey, family, work and life at home, but when they are stressed and tired, he takes his leave so they can relax in privacy.
“It is delightful to be on the team,” said John. “Placing folks into our very nice apartments, or sending them home after serving them well. Our guests are always happy to be there, some even overjoyed with the comfort, convenience and affordability we offer.”
Jane learned about Palmer Place in the church’s newsletter in 2004 when the ministry was relatively new. Her husband had died and she was looking for additional ways to spend time beyond work. Although she was attracted to the ministry, she was not able to volunteer during the day so she waited until retirement in 2013 to renew her interest.
Jane’s husband had had cancer and was in and out of Methodist Hospital during his treatment. Jane was here in Houston with family, friends and a support group to help her physically and emotionally. “We had a comfortable home near the Med Center so we could be back and forth with relative ease,’ she said.
The people served by Palmer Place Apartments don’t have that convenience, nor do they often have the physical and emotional support from family or friends who are elsewhere. Many are overwhelmed by the lifestyle, traffic and size of Houston. “I can’t imagine the stress of dealing with a serious health issue in a totally strange place and the uncertainty of how to deal with the financial impact of having to live in a hotel room or in their car or with a local person whom they don’t know well,” she said. “The relief, the happiness that we see when we check new people into one of our apartments is a wonderful gift that they share with us.” At check-out time, she says the guests are full of gratitude for Palmer Place and for God leading them to the ministry.
“I get back so much more than I put in because of the opportunity to see the impact that this ministry has on peoples’ lives during a very scary and difficult time for them and I’ve met a lot of very nice and interesting people from all over,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be involved.”
Lesley and Les Douthwaite
The Douthwaites joined the Palmer Place team in early 2012. Lesley had retired at the end of 2010 and had become active in the Way Station Ministry. When that ceased to exist it left a big hole, and both the Douthwaites started to look for something else. A conversation with Ministry Leader Sandra Begalke at the Fall Activity Fair was the deciding moment. Lesley joined the Check-In and Check-Out Team and Les offered his services on the Maintenance Team.
“It provides such a valuable service to so many people who are going through what must definitely be one of the worst experiences of their lives,” said Lesley, “and it's a blessing to be able to make their lives easier in some small way.”
Vic learned about Palmer Place more than a decade ago when he met Kathy Jackson, who preceded Sandra Begalke as the ministry leader, at several Wednesday evening Healing Services. Initially Vic did maintenance work with parishioner Bill Hass, but moved over to the Check-In and Check-Out Team when his back problems worsened.
Vic also volunteers for the Church Apartment Ministry at South Main Baptist Church with Thelma Hunt and Carol Coats where initial calls come in from patients anticipating they will be treated in Houston and need housing.
“Answering those calls has given me a new insight into the desperation and fear of the people calling in from all over the country, looking for any place they can afford,” he said. “Most are inexperienced with Houston and are frightened by their diagnosis (cancer mostly). These apartments are important; what breaks my heart is that the need far exceeds the supply.”
Carol was introduced to the Church Apartment Ministry several years ago by parishioner Debbie Brassfield, who has staffed the phone at South Main Baptist for many years. Carol, who had retired from MD Anderson, wanted to help Medical Center patients in some way so she started answering calls the first Monday of every month, taking information from prospective patients looking for a place to stay while they were in Houston. The experience working the phone piqued her interest in the Palmer Place Apartments so she contacted Ministry Leader Sandra Begalke about getting more involved.
Carol has extended her compassion to many of the patients she meets through the ministry’s Check-In and Check-Out Team. She was particularly affected by a young mother who came to Houston with cancer of the heart tissue. She had already lost beloved family members to the disease and her family was facing financial difficulties since she had lost her job due to her diagnosis. Her husband was back at home moving the family in with her parents who accompanied her to Houston.
MD Anderson was the only facility that had the ability to address her disease and though the treatment was working, it would have to be administered throughout her life. She made the difficult decision to return home in Salt Lake City to be with her husband and young children.
“What a difficult situation so many patients find themselves in,” said Carol. “We only hope and pray to ease their time in Houston so that their journey is as stress free as humanly possible.”
Jane joined the Palmer Place Ministry two years ago and says it is a most rewarding experience. She became familiar with Palmer Place while serving on the Church Office Volunteer Ministry, welcoming visitors and answering calls for Palmer in the front desk reception area. Jane is out of town for the summer but looks forward to resuming her work with the ministry in September.