Genuine Southern Hospitality
In 1926 Cator Woolford (a principle founder of the company that would become Equifax, Inc., Retail Credit Company), and his wife Charlotte created a magnificent and vast 33-acre estate in the Druid Hills area of Atlanta. They named it Jaqueland. And although the Woolfords could not have imagined that one day their beloved home would serve as a respite for caregivers visiting sick and, in some cases, dying family members, their legacy of philanthropy, giving and love permeates every square inch of the property. Today, that legacy lives on as the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House (AHHH).
Founded in 1981 by several members of the All Saints Episcopal Church, particularly Tom and Carolyn Clark (the first Chairman of the Board and Executive Director, respectively), the AHHH has worked hard to “provide a ‘home away from home’ to outpatients and relatives of patients hospitalized in 21 Atlanta-area hospitals.” In a comfortable and elegant environment, the organization “offers lodging, meals, supportive companionship and comfort from a committed staff, volunteers, and fellow guests, during what is often a crisis period.”
On April 13, StoryCorps Atlanta was present to help the organization celebrate thirty years of serving its caregiving families, staff, volunteers, friends and supporters. Executive Director Melissa Connor was excited to have StoryCorps there to record the incredible stories of those who help make her work possible. Stories like that of Kathryn Denson (above right), better known as Ms. K, who has cooked the 7:00 p.m. meal for twenty-four years. She and her conversation partner, volunteer Sara Johnson (not shown), talked about Ms. K’s love of cooking for guests, her undying commitment to the organization and the recipe for her famous sweet tea. Ms. K also talked about the importance of the evening meals not only to bring people together physically, but also to bring people together emotionally. She recalled Christmas Eve last year when a guest, having just lost her brother late that evening, still wanted to attend the evening meal on Christmas Day.
Later in the afternoon, best friends Gloria Newton (left) and Nancy Adams (right) came into the recording booth to share their story. Just a few years ago these women lived on opposite ends of the state–Nancy in the Columbus area and Gloria in Savannah. That all changed when Gloria’s son and Nancy’s husband were in the VA Hospital at the same time. Suddenly, they found themselves roommates at the AHHH. Just minutes into the conversation, Nancy said, “I can’t tell you how many times your beautiful smile brought me through a hard day, and hearing your laughter just cheered my heart up.” During that first stay at the AHHH, their common penchant for joking and laughter brought them together and solidified a bond between them so strong that it helped each survive the loss of her loved one and cleared the path for a friendship that is as strong today as it was when they first met some three years ago.
When Executive Director Melissa Connor and her business partner Katie Kwurtzel first came to record the story of the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House in February of this year, they talked about the struggles involved in turning a badly deteriorated and neglected structure into the vital community-based organization it is today. They recalled having to throw out a refrigerator filled with maggot-infested meat, barely able to bear the stench. Their speech slowed, however, when they talked about the financial and in-kind support from local businesses and individuals; in particular, a woman, Annie, who stayed at the house years ago. “She’s given five dollars a month for the past fifteen years,” Melissa noted. This is the kind of dedication and love Melissa, Katie, board members, staff and volunteers see day in and day out. Together, they have worked hard to create a much-needed service for the Atlanta area and the Atlanta community has responded in kind.