In 1982, when Bobbee Kramer’s husband's heart failed while they were traveling to Texas, she had no choice but to remain in Houston, away from home with no connections, while he got the medical attention he needed to survive.
Kramer said she sat alone in the intensive care waiting room, until a woman approached her one day. She asked Kramer if she lived in Houston, and if she knew someone in the hospital. Kramer explained her situation.
“Then she said, ‘You’re not alone anymore, I’m your family,'" Kramer said. "Her name was Shirley, and she was by my side for six weeks. My involvement with Family House is payback."
After her husband passed away, Kramer set to work as a volunteer for Pittsburgh’s Family House, an organization that provides lodging and support for families staying in Pittsburgh while their loved ones receive medical treatment.
Kramer said Family House hosts an average of 10,000 family members each year, from all over the world. Though most of their guests are from Pennsylvania and its bordering states. The average stay is three days.
Kramer said the only requirement is a family who needs a place to stay near a hospital and has a loved one undergoing treatment. She’s seen families who are present for cancer treatments, who are waiting for organ transplants and children who were referred to them because there was no vacancy at the Ronald McDonald House.
A typical day for volunteers like Kramer includes greeting the families and assisting with check in. For a vast majority, this is their first time in Pittsburgh. During Kramer’s shift from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Monday, people are usually coming back from dinner or just arriving. Kramer likes to help take their minds off of the situation with information about free events at the ballpark, Phipps Conservatory or other recreational spots.
“They know that there are things out there for them to do-- that the city is wonderful and welcomes them. They feel they’re not alone," Kramer said.
She said sometimes a person just needs someone to talk to or a shoulder to lean on.
“I go home and count my blessings," Kramer said. "I feel grateful that I can be there. That if there’s something we can do to ease their situation, I’m happy and pleased to do that.”