NEW YORK—On a Tuesday morning in Midtown Manhattan, there’s a frenetic pace as people rush off to work, school and other places while dodging taxis, exotic food carts and picture-snapping tourists. A lone tree providing a canopy of green hides the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) iconic red, white and blue logo on the facade of Hope Lodge. Upon entering the building, there’s a sense of calm and serenity, making you feel right at home.
This month, the organization hosted a celebration for National Cancer Survivors Day at the second annual Hotel Keys of Hope Cancer Survivors Reunion here in the city, co-sponsored by Extended Stay America and the American Cancer Society. A weekend-long series of events were capped by stories of hope from cancer survivor Shannon Miller, the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history.
Designed to be a respite for cancer patients receiving outpatient treatment, the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge offers a place for them to prepare for the journey ahead, find support resources and focus on their most pressing needs—regaining health and wellbeing. There are patients that have traveled far from home to get cutting-edge treatments at one of the top medical centers in the country and they leave worries about affordable accommodations at the door—it’s free for patients to stay here.
However, the numbers of cancer diagnoses are climbing and more facilities like Hope Lodge are needed around the country, but they can’t do it all alone. With a reach of 630 hotels across the U.S. and Canada, Extended Stay answered the call in 2012 to support cancer patients and their families through the Hotel Keys of Hope program in partnership with the American Cancer Society.
The goal is simple: to help cancer patients and their loved ones overcome the financial burden of traveling for treatment, and they are succeeding. The Hotel Keys of Hope program is estimated to have saved cancer patients $1.2 million in lodging costs during treatment.
“We wanted to do something as a company to allow us to care for the community. It is one of the values of our business. We surveyed our own team members and asked for ideas, and it was cancer that came up frequently. We set up a meeting with the American Cancer Society to talk about it, but didn’t necessarily see the fit. We wondered how we could help them,” said Tom Seddon, CMO, Extended Stay America. “But when we sat down and they described the Hope Lodge program, we understood that one of the biggest barriers is somewhere to stay near where their best option for treatment is located. Often, they can get medical covered, but not lodging and transportation covered. It’s a huge barrier to treatment because they don’t have somewhere to stay.”
It was a light-bulb moment for Extended Stay America as they knew they could help fill this need. Unlike some brands with a franchise structure, Extended Stay fully owns all of its hotels and is able to remain nimble to move on a great idea without unnecessary red tape.
“As one of the largest operators of hotels in the country, we don’t face the issues that franchise operators might. We can take care of this. That was the genesis of the idea, asking what matters to our staff. We operate all across the U.S. and Canada and every one of our hotels can play a part wherever people need to stay,” Seddon said.
Here how it works: The American Cancer Society runs a helpline for cancer patients and it helps with everything from finding support to answering questions. In the conversation, ACS is able to identify people who might need a place to stay. When they are not able to fulfill the need in a Hope Lodge, the patient is able to book a stay at one of Extended Stay’s hotels.
“They contact our special reservations team to find a hotel in the right area near treatment. The request shows up as a reservation in our system and the hotel team will know it’s someone from the American Cancer Society. We take care of them—that’s what we need to do,” Seddon said. “We are really good at taking care of people and it’s a natural fit. We’re not medical researchers, but this is something where what we’re good at is what they need and it’s aligned with the mission of the organization.”
Extended Stay is committed to the partnership, doubling its previous contribution of free and deeply discounted rooms to 100,000 rooms over the next two years, with an estimated 15,000 cancer patients to be served. Further expanding the program’s reach, Extended Stay will offer children fighting pediatric cancer a symbol of hope and comfort with the launch of “Hope” the Hotel Keys of Hope Teddy Bear in the fall, enabling guests upon check-in the opportunity to add $10 to their hotel bill to donate a Hope bear with proceeds going to support the American Cancer Society. The brand is also encouraging hotel guests to “leave a key, help save a life,” donating one dollar of the hotel room’s value for every key left in the lobby’s Hotel Keys of Hope collection box, up to $1 million dollars.
For Gary Crowell, a general manager at an Extended Stay property in Scarborough, ME, it was the brand’s dedication to helping others that drew him in. Previously, he spent 20 years working for a religious organization and then worked for an affordable housing organization—both committed to servicing the community. With a history of cancer in his family, he was immediately interested in being a part of Hotel Keys of Hope.
“I understand what it’s like for people who are diagnosed or undergoing treatment and, unfortunately, I lost four people to cancer. If only we had known of a program that could alleviate one little stress put on families when they are battling something so significant,” Crowell said. “You’re trying to get the family member the best care and you’re limited when you don’t know about the resources. That had an impact on some of my family.”
In the same spirit, Crowell goes above and beyond in a daily act of service as he sees the realities of the program firsthand at his hotel, forging bonds with the patients and their families. His personal mission is to spread the awareness of the program and to make his guests comfortable with asking the right questions so they don’t encounter the same difficulties, according to Crowell.
“Extended Stay allows me that as an employee. I’m blessed the leadership loves what we’re doing and I get the privilege of doing it. I get to build a relationship with those guests. I’ve had 15 different guests come through the Hotel Keys of Hope program and some had been long stay, short stay and some were repeat guests—they’d come for three or four days and go home on the weekends,” Crowell said. “The difficulty is we’ve lost some of them, and because I’ve built those relationships, the family will tell me when the person has passed. I can meet with the family and talk about the person I came to know and how they fought cancer. It’s been rewarding for me over the course of two years.”