Nearly ten months ago a colleague called me about a film project for a small nonprofit that wanted to tell its story and was set to begin a capital campaign to raise awareness.
Our initial meeting with Cy’s Place founders Randy and Ree Erickson and Board member, Dr. Shakila Khan of Mayo Clinic lasted two and half hours and truly could have gone longer…the story was emotional and heart breaking but at the same time beautiful, full of light and hope. Cy’s Place, a place that kids on the mend and their families can call home while undergoing transplant and stem cell procedures in Rochester, Minnesota was about to launch the Hand in Hand, capital campaign to raise awareness and support to build Minnesota’s first and second only in the country, pediatric transplant hospitality house for families. The estimated $14M project will be a 55,000 square feet home away from home that includes one- and two-bedroom apartments that will accommodate up to 20 families.
It was clear this was an important story not only to tell but to share. Red Couch Stories was engaged to produce a film that would help tell the story. It was very clear to our team that once the film was produced it needed to be shared. That’s where Encore Public Relations didn’t hesitate to step in and volunteer to spread the word.
The story begins with a courageous little boy
Cy’s Place is named after Silas (“Cy” Erickson), the son of Randy and Ree Erickson, a beautiful little boy who courageously and heroically battled cancer and passed away at age three in 2007. When Silas, became sick with cancer, the Erickson’s began walking down an unfamiliar road that filled them with enormous pain that left them physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
During Silas’ heroic battle with cancer, Randy and Ree had to leave their home and jobs in Williston, North Dakota, and spend much of the next eleven months in Rochester, Minnesota where Silas underwent extensive treatment at Mayo Clinic.
In the midst of the chaos and months of treatment, the Erickson’s learned so much. They became familiar with the ins-and-outs of Mayo Clinic—navigating the buildings where treatment, testing, and appointments took place—they learned what it feels like to sit in the hospital and watch as their child struggled for months and months. They got to know the kind of help that families with a critically ill child in long-term treatment need and the kinds of needs that often go unmet. The Erickson’s experienced firsthand what it was like to need an affordable place to stay for an extended period of time. Through the great pain and loss, the Erickson’s could sense that they were not alone and felt love was all around. “Through the kindness of others, many of our needs were bountifully addressed and even though there was great pain and sadness, we experienced great light and hope,” said Randy Erickson.
Reflecting back on all of the different people that stepped forward to help, the Erickson’s found a calling was placed deep in their hearts with a desire to help other children and families facing similar medical situations. In late 2011, the Erickson’s moved to Rochester where they found a walk out house that they could renovated into a guest apartment and Cy’s Place received it’s nonprofit status and began operation in early 2013. They’ve been welcoming families from all over the world and say referrals mostly come from word of mouth, churches and communities of faith.
Families with children facing transplants have many needs
For parents whose children are undergoing transplantation it often means uprooting everything; jobs and families as the average stay with a transplant is 100 days or more. Once in the community there are a lot of restrictions on what transplant patients can eat and the environment that is most ideal for them to recover and heal. There is also great monetary expense with having to find a home for an extended period of time.
“When a child needs a transplant it often involves the entire family,” said Cy’s Place Board Member, Shakila Khan, M.D., Pediatric Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant, Mayo Clinic. “Many patients stay in hotels, rent apartments or find other hospitality houses, but in general these are not geared for the specific needs of transplant children or their families. I can’t tell you how valuable Cy’s Place will be to the entire transplant community.”
Abundant blessings big and small
The Erickson’s a couple of deep faith and belief, see Cy’s Place as a journey built on God’s provision, grace and love. “It’s really an overwhelming sense of joy that we could be a part of this big plan,” said Randy Erickson. “We know the plan probably started way before we even came here, that God had this in mind and sent us here for some reason with a little boy that would change our hearts forever.”
Along the way the Erickson’s have encountered amazing goodness through the donation of the land, the amazing physician and provider support, board members and a host of community volunteers that have all stepped forward to help. Donations also began trickling in from near and far that seem to show up just when needed most. “We’re just two people. You can’t do much alone. Over the years we’ve continued to pray that God would bring people along the way that would help us with Cy’s Place,” said Ree Erickson. “ It’s just been one example after another of people coming forward, being gracious of their time, talent and treasure. Truly God’s hand is at work.”
A community gathers to hear and share the story
More than 200 people (patients, families, clergy, communities of faith, city, government and providers) gathered on June 18, 2015 for Cy’s Place Hand in Hand capital campaign kick off. It was an opportunity to hear the story and become engaged in the story.
What happened next is a great example of the power of an incredible story and how it has the ability to connect, engage and move others to action. Once the film was created, Encore Public Relations began to talk to media in hopes they would help tell and share the story. It was a beautiful partnership to witness. In less than 72 hours of releasing the film to the first media outlet, The Med City Beat there were over 6,000 views of the film on Med City Beat’s site with hundreds of likes and shares of the story. In short order all local media outlets were given the story to consider that resulted in more than 400,000 viewers, listeners and readers becoming aware of the story in less than three days time. The story is just beginning to surface and the metrics will continue to rise and it will be awesome to witness where Cy’s Place story will go from here.
As the wider community pulls together to make Cy’s Place a reality, organizers hope the end result will be a place where sick children and their families will have a place to stay and a network of love and support wrapped around them. “Over and over we are asked to provide hospitality, and to love each other. That’s the overall theme, and I think it paves the way for us to speak into people’s lives at a time when they desperately need hope,” said Ree Erickson. “When you are struggling through difficult times, people want to know if someone cares. Cy’s Place is an opportunity to love and provide light during the most difficult and dark days of someone life,” said Randy Erickson.
Laurie Archbold is the owner of Encore Public Relations and co-owner at Red Couch Stories in Rochester, MN. You can reach her via Twitter @laarchbold or through encorepublicrelations.com or redcouchstories.com