Children’s Health and Well-being a Priority at Family House

by Paul Goold, Director of Family Services

Published on April 24, 2021

Social Worker Élan Slavin (left), Director of Family Services Paul Goold (right), talk on Zoom with Mason during a virtual support session.

Family House is a homelike environment created to support a family’s needs during a medical crisis with a special focus on children’s health and well-being. Working in conjunction with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, we strive to provide family-centered care for patients and their families. Every family comes to Family House focused on finding the best medical treatment for their child. Often, siblings also accompany them as parents do their best to keep their family structure intact. At Family House, Social Worker Élan Slavin and I, Paul Goold, Director of Family Services, provide assistance for parents, patients, and siblings through support groups and other scheduled one-on-one Zoom sessions or phone calls. We host healthy activities like Kids Kicking Cancer and A Moment of Mindfulness. Nutrition is critical to help manage stress and support growing children, so Family House provides a daily breakfast and dinners four nights a week. We also offer kitchen pantries stocked with wholesome food like organic fruits and vegetables. So through activities that support well-being and nutritious food on the table, we make every effort to help our resident families cope with the stresses of pediatric illness and maintain their children’s health when they are at their ‘home away from home’.

At Family House, we believe in cultivating an environment of well-being and nourishment through healthy activities and sessions. We have carefully curated programs focused on the emotional, physical and mental well-being of the children, their siblings, and their parents. “Action for Healthy Kids” is a great initiative to make schools and homes healthier places where kids thrive. Their action step, Every Kid Healthy Week, encourages the involvement of the whole community to reinforce and model healthy habits at homes and schools. The main themes include social and emotional health, access to nutrition and food, self-care strategies, physical activity, and social awareness and relationship skills. Family House has a number of activities planned throughout the week, focusing on these central themes.

When stress becomes overwhelming, a supportive environment may be what families need to find their balance. Social Worker Élan Slavin is always available at Family House through Zoom or phone as a supportive presence. Before the pandemic, when in-person support was possible, Élan facilitated a Sibling Support Group for the siblings of the patients staying at Family House. Siblings continue to be a focus of concern as parents now try to manage distance learning and limited access to childcare. Now, after a full year into the pandemic, social distancing has become the new normal. Although the challenges shift on a daily basis, Élan always finds a way to provide the necessary care and support for everyone at Family House.

Walking into Family House is like walking into a natural support group due to the similarity of circumstances shared by the families living there. Family House has focused on support groups for many years. Before the pandemic, Paul was hosting a weekly Cookies and Conversation Support Group for the families. When that was no longer possible due to social distancing, Paul asked Élan to co-host a Zoom Support Group to continue fostering a sense of community for the families in this unique moment of isolation. Paul and Élan have been available every Monday from 5:00 to 6:00 pm via Zoom throughout the pandemic — providing a space for families to connect without having to talk through a mask. Although we took it for granted before the pandemic, it’s clearly evident how comforting it can be to speak and engage with someone while being able to see their face. If you’re interested in coming to the Family House Zoom Support Group, contact Paul

In June of 2020, with the support of Nancy and Stephen Grand, Family House facilitated the first Kids Kicking Cancer Martial Arts Therapy Session in Northern California. Although we had planned to have Martial Arts Therapy in person with the patients and siblings at Family House, the pandemic had other plans, so we opted for Martial Arts Therapy on Zoom instead. Kids Kicking Cancer Founder and Director Rabbi G has created an effective and practical martial arts and mindfulness training program to help children manage stress through visualization and breath control. Martial arts for young patients offer a sense of control in moments of their lives that can feel out of control. Sensei Richard, Sensei Keith, and Sensei Michelle teach class participants how to control stress with visualization exercises that focus their thoughts on breathing in light and blowing out darkness. The participants are then asked to become teachers of these powerful breathing techniques, giving them a sense of empowerment. Martial Arts Therapy sessions are available every Tuesday at 2:00 pm and Saturday at 11:00 am. Sessions run for about 30 minutes and are interactive and engaging. We’re so thankful to support our families with this program and look forward to hosting in-person Martial Arts Therapy sessions once social distancing guidelines are changed to allow group activities. Siblings are welcome to join, and if you’re interested in learning more, contact Paul

Mindfulness is easily the best cost-free tool anyone can practice for managing stress to support well-being. When you’re suddenly forced to learn about treatment options for an emergent pediatric diagnosis, the last thing you have time to think about is self-care. Learning to focus on your breath and be present in your body can help tip the balance towards coping when you feel out of control. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 12:00 to 12:30 pm, everyone at Family House is welcome to come to a Moment of Mindfulness Zoom session to learn about and practice mindfulness.

Another essential tool for supporting healthy families is making sure there’s always food available in a variety of options. Everyone knows that the kitchen is the heart of every home. At Family House, kitchens are the central space for families to find wholesome food and relieve some of the burdens of shopping. By design, the house has eight neighborhoods, each with a spacious kitchen surrounded by ten bedrooms. Every week the kitchens are stocked with fresh fruit from the Fruit Guys and fresh organic vegetables from Eatwell Farm. Breakfast foods are provided daily, so families always have access to milk, butter, eggs, fruit juices, cereal, pastries, oatmeal, yogurt, and more. Coffee is an essential breakfast item, and we’re very fortunate to have coffee provided to Family House by Elliot Katz and Peerless Coffee. The kitchen pantries are also regularly stocked with a variety of quick-to-prepare food items for families who often only have a short window of time to make a meal before they head back to the hospital. You can always find pasta, pasta sauce, mac and cheese, canned soups, chili, canned veggies, rice, beans, cooking oil, and more in our pantries. Parents have said that it’s been an enormous relief to show up at Family House in the middle of the night after a long plane trip and not have the added stress of finding a grocery store. Food is meant to be nourishment, but it’s also essential as a source of comfort, especially when faced with the possibility of going hungry.

To ensure that our families have a full complement of food options, Family House provides dinners four nights a week, Monday through Thursday. Throughout 2020, Mourad Restaurant provided nutritious meals to Family House until they closed in December due to the pandemic. In 2021, Toma SF has been bringing individually boxed dinners to us that are then safely hand-delivered by staff and volunteers to each family’s bedroom between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. Because of social distancing, families are asked to eat in their bedrooms whenever possible. It’s been a true joy to see the look in the eyes of parents and children when they open the door to hear the dinner options. They have one less thing to worry about, and we experience a simple yet extraordinary interaction that so clearly illuminates our shared need for health and nourishment during the pandemic.

When a child is diagnosed with a serious illness, the whole family needs support to help get through their journey to wellness. Providing the comforts of home and healthy activities can make all the difference for parents who want the best for their children and family. Family House wishes good health and happiness for everyone who comes to stay in our home.

To set up a Zoom support session with Élan, you can email or call her at 415-619-7296. For all other programs mentioned above, contact Paul Goold for information or to sign up by calling 415-341-7970 or send an email to for the Zoom link(s).

Family House San Francisco is an independent non-profit organization led by a professional staff and board of directors dedicated to providing residential services free-of-charge to qualifying families. Since we receive no financial support from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, or any other public entity, we rely solely on the generous contributions of individuals, corporations, and foundations. 

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