Zachary Fisher dedicated his life to the care and support of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. When Mr. Fisher found out he was unable to serve our country during World War II due to an unfortunate accident, he continued to look for ways to be of service. From assisting the U.S. Coastal Service in the construction of fortifications to creating the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Armed Services Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher contributed in any way they could to numerous military families.
Mr. Fisher began his career in construction at the young age of 16. Not long after, he was able to team up with his brothers, Larry and Martin, to create a construction company of their own called Fisher Brothers. This family business grew into one of the real estate industry's premier residential and commercial developers. The success of his business and the support of his family allowed Mr. and Mrs. Fisher to dedicate more of their time and energy to philanthropic projects.
In 1990, while on the phone with his friend Adm. Carlisle Trost, the Chief of Naval Operations, Mr. Fisher asked a question that would go on to help over 413,000 families of active duty and veteran soldiers. He simply asked: What else can I do to help, what other projects can I take on for our service members? Adm. Trost immediately knew what to propose to Mr. Fisher. Since the mid-1970’s, Adm. Trost's wife, Pauline, had been deeply impacted by a moment she witnessed at a Naval medical center.
“As I came onto the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda for a clinic visit, I saw a helicopter land at the medical center heliport. A sailor, his wife and two children came down the steps with their luggage. I wondered where they would stay. Living in the D.C. area, I knew that hotels and motels in the Bethesda area were expensive and likely beyond the means of couples such as this one. These thoughts remained on my mind for years,” she said.
She had spent years considering how best to help the families of service members receiving medical care and began working with the Washington area Naval Officers Wives Club to come up with a concept: build comfortable homes where military and veteran families can stay free of charge, while a loved one is in the hospital. With this conversation, Mr. Fisher had found one of the greatest passions of his life, telling Mrs. Trost, “I'm a builder, I have my own architect, we can do this."
The first Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher House was opened in 1991. Today there are 92 houses in 3 different countries serving over 1,300 U.S. Military and veteran families a day. The ultimate goal of these houses is to offer families a space to live and heal. Each house is able to support more than one family, providing privacy while also offering the opportunity for community. The individual rooms and bathrooms allow guests all the peace and quiet they need while the double kitchen with a giant island and large living rooms give families the chance to lean on each other and share their stories.
“It is critical for service members to have their families near while recovering and it is equally critical that those families have a safe and comfortable space to return to,” Michelle Baldanza, Vice President of Communications for the Fisher House Foundation said.
One of the ways the Fisher House Foundation turns these buildings into homes is by creating a deliberate feeling of cohesiveness. The thoughtful design touches every single aspect of the house from top to bottom. By working with Juniper Books, all house libraries are stocked with carefully curated books that have been hand picked by employees in Boulder, Colorado. They spend hours combing through titles to make sure there are books for all ages and interests while filtering out anything that could be triggering for a family in recovery.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to curate book collections for each Fisher House as it opens." Thatcher Wine, Juniper Books founder and CEO said. "I love that each Fisher House has a library to make it feel like home, and that books can provide some comfort through reading if desired."
A Fisher House in their original location of Bethesda, Maryland required even more consideration than their usual homes. This one was specifically designed for service members and veterans dealing with brain injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Foundation had clinicians walk through the finished residence to check for anything that could possibly disrupt the patient's healing. Although a painting had to be adjusted, not one book was removed. The care and attention to detail the Foundation puts into every one of its homes is reflected in the admiration of the people blessed to stay there.
“Guests are often pleasantly surprised by the warmth of our homes and the community aspects of the space. They enjoy the energy that the books bring and their calming effect,” said Ms. Baldanza. “The military families in our homes connect quickly, they are able to open up and to turn to each other in the comfort of these welcoming areas.”
If you would like to find out more about the amazing work the Fisher House Foundation does, please visit their website fisherhouse.org. All photography was provided by the Fisher House Foundation.