For Upper Providence Living, I had the honor of interviewing Paul Isenberg of Bringing Hope Home. Paul is humble, caring and so genuine. When you meet Paul, you become an instant friend. I am proud to call him a friend and mentor! I hope you enjoy reading his story.
Paul Isenberg and the Bringing Hope Home Family Provide Possibility and Hope through a Nation of Support
Imagine the most painful loss. How can a person repair the broken pieces and continue living? Clearly, life is altered forever. However, to what degree do the events experienced shape the course of a person’s life? For Paul Isenberg, he turned the unthinkable into a nation of hope for thousands of people.
Paul and Nicole (Makowski) Isenberg met while students at West Chester University in 1983. Paul reminisces that he was instantly enamored by Nicole. The couple married in 1991. Their son Christopher was born in 1995 and shortly thereafter, Nicole became pregnant with their daughter, Gabrielle.
Paul shares, “When Nicole was pregnant with Gabby she wasn’t gaining weight and had little energy. We attributed it to the fact that she was a newly stay at home mom, with a crazy two year old running around. When her condition wasn’t improving, we went to the doctor and Nicole was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She gave birth to Gabby ten days early and then endured six years of treatment. On Saturday, August 2, 2003, she lost her life quietly and peacefully at home.”
During the time Nicole fought, Paul explains that, “We promised each other that we would put our faith, family and ourselves in a positive place and ‘go after it’. We had so much support. I worked for a company that was flexible. Our family, friends, church family, and neighbors helped us in so many ways, but it was still really hard.”
As Paul and Nicole sat in waiting rooms, they quickly realized that everyone there had a chilling similarity, but not everyone was fighting this battle with the support the Isenbergs were blessed to have surrounding them. “We would look around and see that people were by themselves,” Paul recalls.
Even to this day he is haunted by the fact that some of the people they met were facing this diagnosis on their own with no outside support. “We met people who were in a financial place where they had to pick between paying the electric bill or buying food. There were people who had car trouble and because of insufficient resources, they feared missing work and ultimately losing their health benefits,” Paul shares.
Paul looks back on one woman’s story in particular that clearly influenced his drive to advocate for families battling cancer. “I remember sitting in a waiting room and this woman was talking about how she had to take two busses to treatment and she didn’t know how she was going to go home, get her laundry done, kids fed and do her life. To make matters worse, she was out of vacation days and she didn’t know what she was going to do because she couldn’t afford to lose her job.”
Cancer can attack a body, but the couple quickly learned how gravely the disease could affect so much more. As a couple, they couldn’t fathom battling cancer while facing financial and emotional burdens. These stories made them want to get involved in making change. Paul humbly explains that he didn’t get involved in helping people because he is a great person. “I got involved because Nicole and I couldn’t reconcile in our minds how people could be by themselves, or financially depleted, or have no alternatives, other than a crappy one while they are going through this crappy disease.”
Because Nicole and Paul observed others needs with such thoughtfulness, Paul helped create a legacy for Nicole by starting the “Great Guys Dinner” in 2001 with his friend, Tim Sherry. The first dinner gathered 100 guys and raised $13,000 that was donated to the American Cancer Society. This was just the beginning of helping people find light even during their darkest days.
The Great Guys Group officially incorporated in 2008 and in May of 2012 the Great Guys Group changed its name to Bringing Hope Home (BHH). Paul explains, “We are a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide Unexpected Amazingness to local Families with cancer. One way we do this is through providing financial support. Financially, BHH can pay rent/mortgages, utilities, car payments and grocery bills.” The “family” staff of BHH works directly with the companies involved to handle the aforementioned payments. BHH exceeds to alleviate the hardships families are facing by recognizing that cancer directly affects a family’s financial situation.
Paul continues, “If there are special projects that need to be completed, the staff of BHH has arranged for ramps to be built, plumbing issues to be resolved, roofs repaired and bed bugs eradicated. Also, we have helped Families receive special medical equipment through donors. Our staff has helped facilitate the college application process for Families and we have also assisted with job placement.” Each family is facing different circumstances and the organization honors the personal needs of the individual family.
By providing emotional supports, BHH makes certain that families understand they are never fighting this battle alone. “We work really hard to build a community which we affectionately call, Hope Nation. This lets people know that they are not alone and there are other people there for them, who may have gone through some tough stuff too. It is wonderful for people to get their bills paid, but it is equally wonderful for people to know that they are now part of our Family. We don’t take care of patients; we take care of Families. That means a lot to us personally at BHH. We are a Family at work, but we also consider our donors, sponsors, friends and supporters members of the BHH Family.”
Bringing Hope Home has helped families in the Upper Providence community. BHH has assisted 24 families living in Collegeville, with $29,178 in grant funds. BHH has assisted 37 families living in Phoenixville, with $42,915 in grant funds. BHH has assisted 16 families living in Royersford, with $16,836 in grant funds.
A woman in our community, Delores, is 72 years old and was diagnosed with stage III small cell lung cancer in June 2017. In a personal statement written to BHH, Delores shared, “My name is DeeDee to my family. I am 1 of 7 girls. I was the only one of my mother’s children who dropped out of school (teenage pregnancy). Now I’m the only one out of 7 that graduated college at the age of 72 years young. Now I’m the only one of 9 children suffering with lung cancer. My income level is the lowest of my 7 siblings which brings me to ask you for help. I am the head of the household and am finding it difficult to handle expenses associated with cancer. Your help will mean the difference of my completing my cancer treatment.” BHH was able to pay Delores’ rent, cell phone, home phone, and car insurance bills.
Bringing Hope Home prides itself on staying connected with the families they serve. “One event we host in June is a Phillies Family Reunion for all the Families that we’ve helped. It is a day for our Families to come out and have fun. Families are given tickets, t-shirts and lunch at Xfinity Live,” Paul happily shares.
Being the co-founder of BHH isn’t a “job” for Paul Isenberg. It is his life. He is inspired every day to help families fight. When cancer is in your job description, one can only imagine the heartache the BHH family has experienced, but Paul shares the benefits are great. “Shortly after we started, we helped a young Family with five kids. The mom had been sick. We helped them and unfortunately she passed away. It was very sad for us. We get connected to our Families and that is why you are not allowed to use the ‘patient’ word in our office. We are Family; we help Families, that’s important. We stayed in touch with the Family through the father, and nine years later he spoke at our recent fashion show and his daughter modeled. My favorite thing is when Families maintain relationships with us and also get involved in our endeavors.”
Bringing Hope Home is always thinking about the future of the organization and its continued growth. Paul shares, “My favorite line to my team is that there are 50,000 things to do and they are all important. My major goal is to make BHH sustainable financially so we continue to bring Unexpected Amazingness, joy, love and hope to Families with cancer locally. We are always thinking about how we can continue to give Families what they want and need even though they may not know they need it. Another goal is to recognize the differences in Families and make sure we are treating Families and employees the right way. Growth is always our goal because there are so many Families that need help.”
As the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of BHH, Paul Isenberg relates on multiple levels to the families he works so closely with. Part of the hope he shares is the ability to demonstrate that future possibilities are endless. “After losing Nicole, I never thought I would get married again. I was 38 and planning on just raising my kids and living my life. I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful woman, Miriam, who was a widow. We went to college together, but didn’t know one another during that time in our lives. She had two kids, so we blended our families and we are celebrating our 13th year of marriage.”
The couple survived their own personal tragedies when losing their spouses. For Miriam her loss came on September 11, 2001. Her husband, Michael Horocks was the First Officer (co-pilot) of United Airlines Flight 175. His plane struck Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.
A few years ago, Paul and Miriam found themselves now fighting together when she was diagnosed with early stage Non- Hodgkin Lymphoma. “We went to Penn where Nicole had been treated. Miriam went through six rounds of chemotherapy and handled it like a champ. We caught it early enough that everything was okay. We rallied as a family. Miriam has always been supportive of BHH as my living and passion, but this bonded us even more. One day she said to me ‘I always knew what you did was important, but I never got it the way I get it now.’ She is doing great and has her next checkup soon. We are cautiously optimistic and pray all of the time.”
Bringing Hope Home is a gift to so many, but Paul views BHH as a gift that is being given to him. “It has allowed me to take a bad experience and try to help other people with their experiences. I always knew that 99.9% of those in the world are great people and this has been reaffirmed with me. God doesn’t give you anything that you can’t handle and you have to figure out how you are going to move on from that and make it better for others.”
During Nicole’s battle with cancer, the couple realized that people needed a break and that sparked the vision for BHH. “People need to know that they are loved. We want to relieve stress, pressure, anxiety and fear. We do this not only for the person with the disease, but for the entire Family. That can bring hope. Hope is the presence of faith and the willingness to believe that something good is going to happen.”
Brining Hope Home can’t prevent families from hitting rock bottom. What Paul Isenberg and the BHH family can do though, is prevent families from staying there. Become part of the BHH family by attending an event, adopting a family or getting your school involved. Paul sees that people are willing to get involved. “At BHH we want to put people in a place to give the way they want to give. We want to build our organization as an outlet for people who want to do good.”
The energetic, warm and welcoming BHH family will greet you with open arms and would love for you to join their mission. For more information on how you can become involved in BHH, visit their website at bringinghopehome.org