In 1990, New York City real-estate developer Zachary Fisher learned about a servicewoman who had recently received medical treatment at a military hospital. Her husband, unable to afford a hotel, spent the duration of her hospitalization sleeping in his car. Fisher was shocked to learn that the military made no provision for the families of hospitalized servicemembers and veterans—and decided to do something about it.
With an initial donation of $20 million to establish the Fisher House Foundation, Zachary and his wife Elizabeth began building “comfort homes” within walking distance of Veterans Affairs and military medical centers. These complexes were designed to provide free housing for families of military personnel and veterans who were hospitalized. At the time of Zachary’s death in 2000, the Fisher House Foundation had built 26 houses at busy medical facilities, and there were 65 houses in operation by 2015.
As of 2015, the Fisher House Foundation has provided 6 million days of free lodging to the families of hospitalized servicemembers and veterans. In addition to saving those individuals a serious expense, the opportunity to commune with other families in similar stressful situations has proven invaluable for many beneficiaries.
With this enormously popular innovation under their belt, the Fisher family expanded their military-medical philanthropy. Between 2000 and 2012, their Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund provided $120 million in support to wounded service members and their families, first through direct payments to the families of soldiers lost in war and later through the construction of new medical research and rehabilitation facilities for wounded military personnel. The Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio is focused on treatment of soldiers with amputations, burns, or loss of limb use. The National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Maryland, is focused on the care of brain injuries and psychological health and connects to satellite centers to bring advanced brain-injury care to other parts of the country.
- Profile of Zachary Fisher in Philanthropy Hall of Fame, philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/great_men_and_women/hall_of_fame/zachary_fisher
- Facts and figures on Fisher Houses, fisherhouse.org/assets/77/FISH_OnePageFactSheet.pdf