Katie Lindenfelser can already see the families who will come here, to this bright, roomy home in Brooklyn Center.
She can see them bunched around the brick fireplace in winter and going for boat rides on the lake out back when it’s warm. She can see them underneath the willow tree in the spring, sitting in the gazebo in fall. Watching for wildlife at the windows, playing instruments in the music room.
She can see them finding refuge here, a peaceful place for families to rest — and, when the time comes, for children to die.
“When you walk in, you can already feel and imagine them,” Lindenfelser said, stepping from room to room.
After years of planning and fundraising, Crescent Cove, a nonprofit Lindenfelser founded in 2009, is in the process of buying a facility in Brooklyn Center that will one day house the state’s first community children’s hospice and respite home — and one of only a few such facilities in the country. The nonprofit expects to welcome its first families in October.
Families now must generally choose between caring for a dying child at home or seeking end-of-life care in a hospital. That leaves children who may not want to spend their final weeks at home without options, proponents of pediatric hospice care say.
“This is exactly what our children need,” said Dr. Scott Schwantes, associate medical director of pediatrics at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare and board member emeritus of Crescent Cove.
Dozens of these facilities already exist in places like the United Kingdom, but there are currently only two community hospice centers for children in the United States, one in Arizona and the other in California, Schwantes said.
“We are unfortunately behind in this, definitely,” Schwantes said.
The center in Brooklyn Center will offer services at no cost to families, thanks to donations, grants and such fundraising events as the nonprofit’s annual gala. It will provide care for as many as six patients at a time, as well as respite for their parents and siblings.
Jennifer Samountry knows well the constant rigors of caring for a child around the clock. Her 9-year-old daughter, Gianna, was diagnosed with cancer at 8 months old. Complications from her cancer treatments damaged her brain and left her handicapped. She requires 24-hour care.
She can’t move or speak. A feeding tube delivers nourishment, and a ventilator fills her lungs with air.
“It can be just utterly exhausting,” Samountry said, adding that the family often forgoes evening plans and vacations.
Samountry said she can imagine what the respite will mean to families.
“It’s so needed,” she said.
Awareness of that need has guided Crescent Cove in its efforts to create a homey environment for kids and parents alike. The 6,700-square-foot facility near Twin Lakes was for years an adult residential hospice owned and operated by North Memorial Health Care. Once the sale is complete, expected this spring, the task before Lindenfelser and her team is to renovate the facility.
That means hanging new wallpaper and laying new flooring, making play areas, and maybe tweaking the kitchen and dining spaces. So far, they’ve raised about $2 million — enough to purchase the home — toward their $5 million goal. The rest of the money they plan to raise will cover renovation work, as well as first-year operating costs.
On a recent afternoon, Lindenfelser was dreaming up possibilities for the wooded property when an unexpected visitor dropped by.
Zachary Tift walked in, keen to see for himself the kind of home he knows his daughter could have benefited from. Maryah Tift, a girl who loved to dance, spent her final weeks in an adult hospice with mostly elderly patients. She knew she didn’t want to die at home but also wanted to be able to go on short outings — a freedom not afforded at the hospital, Tift said.
Diagnosed with bone cancer at age 9, Maryah died in 2010, days after her 16th birthday. Soon after, her dad learned about Crescent Cove and now raises money, volunteers and helps the nonprofit however he can.
“You just want to imagine what Maryah would say,” Lindenfelser said, standing next to Tift near a back window overlooking the lake.
Tift kept a rosary looped around his hand as he peered into different rooms.
“Any place where somebody passes becomes sacred,” Tift said. “But there’s life in hospice, too.”
He paused near the spa bath, similar to the one at the center where his daughter had lived.
“Maryah absolutely loved this bath,” he said.
Then he headed outside to walk the wooded grounds. He lingered by the gazebo, paying his respects to the people whose names are etched in memorial bricks.
Nearby is a walking path, where families might make final memories by the lake. It’s a view, he said, that Maryah would have loved.