Now That Molly's House Has Provided 20 Years Of Caring And Hospitality, It's Ready For Many More
It has been two decades since the Sharkey family opened the doors to Molly’s House, built in honor of their daughter. The facility has since created its legacy of accommodating families affected by illness.
The photo on the reception desk at Molly’s House in Stuart shows a volunteer signing his name in the concrete foundation for the house that Molly Sharkey dreamed about but never got to see. Or maybe she did. Take a closer look at the photo of the cornerstone, and you’ll see the outline of an angel overlooking the process. And while some believe it’s just a shadow, Kevin Sharkey knows that his beloved daughter, Molly, was overseeing the realization of a loving home that would welcome families and patients in medical crises. It’s the kind of miracle the Sharkeys and anyone involved with Molly’s House have come to expect since 1996, when the doors opened for the first time. But it all started with a young girl with a big heart and an even bigger dream.
Molly Sharkey was a just 12 years old and living in New Jersey when she began to experience bouts of fatigue that devastated the once-vibrant eldest child of Kevin and Debbie Sharkey. After a few missed steps and a host of medical tests and appointments, the family received the news no one ever expects or is prepared to handle—Molly was suffering from chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a slow-spreading cancer that affects blood and bone marrow and has no cure. Following the diagnosis, the Sharkey family embarked on a six-year journey around the globe in an attempt to cure, treat and slow the disease, which eventually took Molly’s life in 1992 when she was 18 years old. Along the way, Molly, her mom, dad and younger siblings Kate, Jessica and Michael, all learned a lot about family, hospitals, hotels and hospitality houses. Molly kept a journal, and between the endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, blood tests and scans of one sort or another, she came up with a dream that would turn into a legacy.
“Molly and her mom spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms, treatment centers and Ronald McDonald Houses,” Kevin Sharkey says. “Molly was very sensitive to seeing families of the patients sleeping in chairs or on floors, and it bothered her so much when families were turned away from some hospitality houses because the patient wasn’t a child.”
Kevin Sharkey says Molly understood that, while it’s nice for people to have a chance to socialize, often the patient and family are so exhausted after a day at the hospital or in treatment that it takes every ounce of energy just to warm up a cup of tea and put on pajamas. “You just don’t have it in you to make small talk or converse,” Kevin Sharkey says.
“Some hospitality houses have shared bathroom facilities or insist that those staying participate in social activities and do chores, and Molly felt that took precious time away that could be spent as normally as possible with family,” he adds. “She took notes and made sure the house she designed would offer private rooms, cable television, private bathrooms, laundry facilities, a fully stocked kitchen and pantry where families could keep and prepare their own comfort foods, and a chapel for reflection and prayer.” Molly even designed a beautiful window seat in the front library where she dreamed of curling up with her cat, Webby. Molly never got the chance to sit in her window seat, but hundreds of others have.
Like Donna Mitchell’s family. Originally from Maine, the 61-year-old had been living in Port St. Lucie for many years when she suffered a heart attack and stroke while in her doctor’s office in 2003. For two months, Mitchell was in a comatose state in St. Lucie Medical Center and Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart. Her grown children and family flew in from Maine and other states to be with her, and a case manager at the hospital told them about Molly’s House and its proximity to the hospital.
“It was such a gift for us,” says Leon Mitchell, Donna Mitchell’s older brother, who spent weeks at his sister’s bedside when Donna Mitchell’s children had to travel home to care for their own families. “I could be with my sister and know that I had a quiet, safe place to rest when I left her side. I could never have afforded to pay for a hotel for all that time,” he says of the $20 donation requested, but never demanded of those who stay at Molly’s House. “And when the nurses called in the middle of the night to tell me time was getting short, I was able to be there in minutes to be with Donna when she took her final breaths.”
For the Sharkey family, Molly’s House is a tribute to the daughter who was more concerned about the comfort of others than her own condition. “I share with families who stay at Molly’s House now that the pain never really goes away,” Kevin Sharkey says through tears, “you just do what you can to cope with it. For us, Molly’s House is a place where we can connect with Molly and feel her with us.”
Indeed, the Sharkey family is always at Molly’s House during holidays like Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, preparing a beautiful dinner and serving up the 37 guests who might be staying there at any time.
Celebrating its 20-year anniversary, Molly’s House is the same welcoming home it always has been, staffed 24/7 by volunteers who provide comfort, resources, information and often just an empathetic ear. However, Molly’s House has also evolved through the years—its rooms redecorated and updated courtesy of local designers and businesses. A reflection garden was built with a fountain and butterfly garden, which was donated by the community. And a veritable gallery of art was given by local artists who want to make the average four-day stay for families and patients more enjoyable.
CEO Bill West says it is thanks to the donations and support from the community that Molly’s dream has grown even further than anyone could have imagined. “Because the community is so involved and caring, Molly’s House has been able to introduce a Caregiver Respite Program, which provides caregivers in the community with a much-needed break from the exhaustive responsibility of caring for loved ones.”
West shared that 64 percent of caregivers succumb before the spouse or loved one for whom they provide care. “We know that caregivers age an average of 10 years faster than individuals who are not caregivers,” West says. “Our Caregiver Respite Program offers a four-day, three-night break for the caregiver, complete with massage, meals at local restaurants, and some much-needed pampering and rest.”
West says the program is made possible by donations from local businesses, groups and individuals.
“Historically, we have funding for six individuals to take advantage of the Caregiver Respite Program,” West says. “This year, the community’s generosity has provided funding for 30 caregivers.”
West says most of the caregivers come in “wired and tense,” and that he and the staff and volunteers at Molly’s House feel incredible satisfaction when they watch the tension melt away from the caregivers, rejuvenating them to continue providing their care to loved ones once they leave Molly’s House.
There is no shortage of Molly’s caring personality throughout the house that bears her name—from the collection of Muffy Vanderbears on display throughout the building to photos of Molly and her family, and even a beautiful poem written in Molly’s honor by a stranger named A. West her parents met one morning on the beach shortly after her death.
A portion of the poem includes these sentiments:
There’s no address where you live now – But I know of where you stay,
From the sign along the roadside – It says, “Molly’s House this way.”
In a picture on the mantle, I have seen your smiling face,
In a house built in your memory, your dream has found a place.
Don’t think your life is over, It has really just begun
In a home that offers peaceful nights and quiet morning sun.
And when someone needs the comfort that only love can give
They will look to Molly’s legacy, it is there your spirit lives.