Lake County’s Naval Station Great Lakes, in North Chicago, has the honored distinction of being the U.S. Navy’s only Recruit Training Command and the Navy’s largest training facility. It has been an important military hub for more than 100 years. Since World War I, it has trained more than 2 million new sailors through the Recruit Training Command (RTC) and nearly an equal number through its technical schools.
The station sits on over 1,600 beautiful acres overlooking Lake Michigan, and it is home to 1,153 buildings, 39 of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Its population includes 4,000 active-duty staff personnel and families, 14,000 recruits and students, 3,000 government civilian employees and 2,000 contractors—all of which have an incredible impact on the local community and the U.S. Navy worldwide. Operations, along with area military retirees and educational aid payments, increased Illinois’ gross domestic product by $4.6 billion.
The station provides a host of services for military members and family from a surrounding 16 state area. The nearby Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC) was established in 2010 as a first-of-its-kind partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense (DoD); this initiative integrated all medical care under a combined mission, allowing for the medical treatment and care of nearly 75,000 patients per year at several locations.
FHCC locations include a West Campus, East Campus and community-based outpatient clinics in Evanston and McHenry, Illinois as well as in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A full spectrum of healthcare is provided for patients at these locations, including medical and surgical care, mental health services, medical sub-specialties like cardiology, and more.
While receiving medical attention at these sites, many patients and their families have a need for housing, meals and other accommodations. Demand led the Veterans Administration to explore opportunities to provide spaces in which military families can heal together, without the financial burden brought on by medical crises. The concept of a “Fisher House” was built around this very idea.
HOW FISHER HOUSES ARE A GAME-CHANGER FOR MILITARY SUPPORT
Fisher Houses are “home away from homes,” designed to provide humanitarian support and cozy shelter for active military, veterans and family members who are undergoing treatment. They typically have 16 – 20 suites with private bedrooms and baths. Families share a common kitchen, dining and living rooms and a laundry facility.
The Fisher House model has been an incredible success. Now, 1,100 military members sleep in Fisher Houses each night, spread across 92 homes located at major military and VA medical centers nationwide. Since inception, the nationwide Fisher House program has saved military and veteran families an estimated $407 million in out-of-pocket costs for lodging and transportation.
Locally, the Friends of Fisher House-Illinois (FOFH-IL) nonprofit organization works to guarantee that there is never a lodging fee and provides all food, beverages and quality-of-life outings for families. The group is the steward of the state’s first Fisher House—the Hines VA Fisher House outside of Chicago—which has operated at near full capacity since it opened in 2010.
Hines VA hosts up to 44 people; if at full capacity, those in need are housed free-of-charge at local hotels until suites become available. The need for Fisher House accommodations is so great, in fact, that FOFH-IL is expanding its focus to include Lake County.
“When members of our military are wounded protecting our country, not only do they pay a steep price, their families also suffer. The Hines VA Fisher House is a special place, as are those like FOFH-IL who do humanitarian work on behalf of these patriots and their families. As wounded warriors receive VA medical care, their families stay at nearby Fisher Houses free of any charge. Soon, I am proud to say, there will be a new Fisher House at the Lovel Federal Healthcare Center—a facility that bears my name,” announced retired Captain and former NASA astronaut James Lovell.
WHY A FISHER HOUSE WOULD BE AN ASSET IN LAKE COUNTY
In North Chicago, FOFH-IL is raising funds to help the Fisher House Foundation build proposing to build the “Lovell Fisher House”—a 15,000 sq. ft. facility along Buckley Road, within walking distance of the Great Lakes Naval Station and FHCC. The two-story, 16-suite structure will carry on the Fisher House tradition and provide free short and long-term lodging, access, food, beverages, outings and camaraderie to help families in North Chicago.
Major General James H. Mukoyama, Jr., U.S. Army Retired and Chair of the Lovell Patient Advisory Council, added to Lovell’s endorsement. “When military veterans face medical crises, they need to heal together with their families. Sadly, this is a financial hardship. Because I’m devoted to the best medical care for our heroes whose sacrifices protect our country, I want to share a special haven in Illinois helping military families. It’s the Fisher House at Hines VA Hospital. As wounded warriors receive vital medical care, their families stay at this comfort home at no charge. And soon, I’m delighted to say, there’ll be a new Fisher House at Lovell Federal Healthcare Center in North Chicago.”
Project construction is estimated at $9 million, and FOFH-IL is currently fundraising with the goal of breaking ground later this year and ushering families into the new facility in 2023. The group anticipates supporting 900 families, or approximately 1,800 individuals per year.
HOW TO GIVE BACK AND PROVIDE LOCAL SUPPORT
Keeping in mind the sacrifices that so many of these military members have made, and the immense impact that this base has had on the Lake County community, FOFH-IL has made it easy to give back and show support. Click here to learn more about FOFH-IL and its mission to construct the first Lake County Fisher House to support the Great Lakes Naval Station and our military members.