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Courage Cottage celebrates 10 years

The plans for Courage Cottage started out on a napkin.

On the drive back from Southern Minnesota more than 10 years ago, Vicki Maanum, the first RN site coordinator for Courage Cottage, sketched out an idea for the layout of an adult foster care facility on the back of a napkin.

"We gave it to the architect, and from that napkin he came up with the floor plan," Maanum recalled.

As Courage Cottage prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary since its groundbreaking in September 2000, current staff are working hard to keep the mission of the facility - providing rehabilitative, respite and hospice care in a home-like environment - alive and work harder to raise the funds necessary to keep Courage Cottage in the community.

Courage Cottage is owned and operated through Stevens Community Medical Center. Since SCMC stopped provided home care services several years ago, current RN Coordinator Kristi Abler said there has been confusion in the community about who owns and operates Courage Cottage.

In fact, when Abler began working there a year ago, there wasn't even a sign out in front of the house.

"I get that we don't want to draw attention because we want it to be a home-like setting that's focused on providing comfort, but I also think we need to make the public aware that Courage Cottage is owned and operated by SCMC," said Abler.

The initial goal was for Courage Cottage to be a strictly a hospice care facility.

"There was really no place for people with a terminal illness to go if they weren't able to take care of themselves at home and didn't have family nearby," said Maanum, who worked to help fundraise, build and open Courage Cottage after the SCMC Board of Directors decided to take on the project.

As the Board of Directors considered the project, they decided to go with an adult foster care license, which allowed Courage Cottage to take both hospice patients and short term rehabilitation residents.

While Courage Cottage still provides some hospice care, most often residents come to Courage Cottage for rehabilitation services and respite care in a home-like setting, said Abler.

Courage Cottage is home to, at most, five residents at a time, and Abler said the number of residents is "feast or famine."

"That's one of the challenges of it," said Abler. "We have employees hired to have appropriate staff, but when our census is really low we have to ask them to stay home."

Becky Lutz, LPN, has been working for Courage Cottage for three years.

"I've worked in a lot of different areas at the hospital, and this has really been wonderful," said Lutz. "It's very hard to work here, but it's very rewarding," said Lutz. "You're doing care for a resident, but you're there for the family too."

It took three years and $275,000 to take Courage Cottage from an idea to reality.

As the hospice coordinator for SCMC, Maanum said it was her job to both coordinate care and do much of the work getting Courage Cottage going. To raise money for the house, SCMC organized a number of fundraisers, applied for grants and received memorials and community donations.

The first two fundraisers were both style shows - one called "Wedding of the Century" and one called "Children's Clothing of the Century." Both were fashions shows focusing on the decades since the early 1900s, Maanum said.

The fundraising team hosted dinners, held a car auction, sponsored food sales and raffles, hosted cooking classes in the high school auditorium and turned to the community for help.

When it finally came time to start construction on the house, members of the community stepped up again. Maanum estimates the house would have cost about $350,000 to build, but thanks to time and supply donations from a local architect - Leonard Eich - and other area businesses, they were able to the build and pay off the house for $275,000.

But even with that support, the cost of running Courage Cottage fell to SCMC, and it was not often profitable.

"It's been a deficit on the hospital ever since it was built," said Maanum. "We feel that we need to keep it running in the black so it will remain in our community. We have always wanted it to be a part of the community so we can continue these services."

Starting in 2009, staff at Courage Cottage began a serious fund development program by hiring a consulting firm to help get started. In 2010, the program raised more than $99,000 to help offset the cost of running Courage Cottage and keep the fees for residents down. The fundraising goal for 2011 is $95,000, and Abler said they are currently about halfway to meeting that goal.

This Saturday's 10th anniversary event is both a fundraiser and celebration for Courage Cottage and the community. Abler, Lutz, and Maanum all emphasized how unique it is for a community like Morris to have a facility like Courage Cottage.

"Our community is so fortunate to have this," said Maanum. "Whereas there are many other cities in our area that are even larger than Morris that do not have one. I go back to the Board of Directors having the foresight to want to do this in the beginning, and it worked."