***This story has changed since being published in Limerick Living in August. On behalf of everyone involved in Coming Home with Grace, I am honored to be able to share it here.
In 2011, immediately following the birth of identical twins, Kristi Hertzog spent four months at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). During her recovery, she found herself navigating the unthinkable. She felt so desperate as she grieved the person she was prior to her illness. That person who once felt very blessed had lost her dignity.
With the help of expert therapists, Kristi relearned things that at one time came so naturally. She felt utterly defeated. By the age of two, Camryn, Kristi’s oldest daughter, who has an Intellectual Disability and Autism received over 20 hours a week of the same therapies and never complained. When Kristi finally grasped this, Camryn became her inspiration to fight and her motivation to find purpose for the trauma she suffered.
After being discharged from HUP, Kristi returned home. Regardless of knowing that her recovery was remarkable and with grit she would regain all that was lost physically, navigating her home was grueling. Even though this was a dark time in Kristi’s life, her family, friends, and the community came together for the Hertzogs in countess ways.
In 2012, Kristi returned to her job as a high school teacher and reunited with her friend and colleague, Misty Cincotti. Misty and Kristi were placed on the same team and over the next several years their friendship turned into a partnership as they quickly realized how aligned their visions were and led to the discovery that together they could accomplish the goals they established.
The mission of Coming Home with Grace began well before a designated project was chosen. It came to fruition with a different project, one very close to home.
This project was for Kristi’s daughter, Camryn. As Camryn was approaching her 13th birthday, it was Kristi’s goal to create a space worthy of every teenager’s dreams, and one that would stay true to Camryn’s unique interests. Kristi shared her vision with Misty and Misty, who is always on a mission to make everyone feel that they belong, could not wait to surprise Camryn with a room full of everything she loves. This room is one that Camryn continues to enjoy with her three sisters, as they look up to their big sister and love her “cool teenage room.”
Room designs and renovations were just the beginning for this team. In 2017, Kristi left her teaching job and took on the position of Content Coordinator for Limerick Living’s sister magazine, Upper Providence Living (UPL).
This opportunity afforded her the chance to hear stories that would inspire Kristi and lead her to her vision of living a life with purpose and ultimately giving back to the community that had, at one time, given so much to her family.
Coming Home with Grace began on a silent platform. Misty explains, “We were confident, but wanted to make sure we could handle the work on our own if we were going to move forward. More importantly, we did not want to take any credit for the projects. It was not about us. It was about the family we were serving.”
During an interview with Kevin Donnelly, the Boy’s Lacrosse coach for Spring-Ford High School, he told Kristi about Corrine Hare, 14, who had a rare form of bone cancer, Osteosarcoma.
“Kevin told me about Corinne’s journey and the upcoming surgery she would be having at the Mayo Clinic. This surgery would leave her paralyzed from the waist down, but the doctors were hopeful she would be cancer free,” Kristi recalls. “This story shook me. How was a 14-year-old and her family going to deal with the gravity of this? The words literally flew out of my mouth when I asked, ‘How is Corrine going to navigate her house?’”
That night, Kristi messaged the Corrine Strong Facebook page and explained that she wanted to renovate and design an accessible space with the help of her husband Dave, owner of Hertzog Contracting and her best friend Misty. Corrine’s family agreed, taking a leap of faith on this team, and so did Dave and Misty when they found out that since the family already said yes, there was no turning back.
“If Kristi wouldn’t have taken a risk, quitting her career after 17 years to begin writing for UPL,” Misty points out, “none of this would have happened.”
While interviewing the family, the team learned that Corinne’s dad worked for Penn Star. One of his co-workers and close friends, kept Kristi alive during the flight when the ventilator stopped working as she was being airlifted to HUP in 2011. This connection was a sign that this was going to be more than just a room.
“Corrine’s project was our first and extremely personal for the team,” Misty explains. “Everything needed to be wheelchair accessible, while offering Corrine a room she could grow with. The project included renovating an office on the 1st floor into a fully accessible bedroom. Not only were her bed and her window treatments remotely controlled, an added electric fireplace, and hanging seat offered a space for recovery. The team also converted the powder room into a bathroom with a shower, and a ramp from the garage into their laundry room for entry into the house.”
The project was completed on December 22, 2017, and Corinne, who was declared cancer free, cherished her room, as did her family.
Devastatingly, Corrine’s cancer returned in January and she passed away peacefully on March 30, 2018.
In 2018, Lucy Terreri, 10, became the inspiration for the team’s next design. Lucy has a condition called Pseudoachondroplasio, a condition that affects bone growth, mobility and lower body alignment. Kristi explains that, “Surgeons cut the bones in her upper and lower legs.” Lucy would spend 6 weeks in a SPICA cast to allow time for her bones to heal. The team felt that she needed something to look forward to after a very trying recovery.
“Lucy’s room was a space she shared with her sister,” Misty notes, “so we knew it was important to include both girls. When I met with Lucy, she was ecstatic. Lucy envisioned a mermaid-themed room, so I was on a mission to find décor that would include all that Lucy dreamed of while including her sister too.”
Kristi recalls, “When we met with Lucy, we’d already decided on the name of our organization, Coming Home with Grace. The CH stands for Camryn Hertzog and the G is for Camryn’s middle name, Grace. After Corrine Hare passed away, we felt strongly that the CH also stood for Corrine Hare. During the interview with Lucy, Misty asked what her middle name was, and when she answered Grace, we both were astounded. Everyone deserves to be in a place where they feel grace. This was another sign that Coming Home with Grace is our purpose.”
On June 20, 2018, Lucy’s father carried her through the door to see her new room. The excitement that filled the room can never adequately be put into words.
After this room design, the team filed for non-profit status in Pennsylvania. On July 25, 2018, while Kristi’s Dad was undergoing surgery for Stage IV Glioblastoma, an envelope arrived in the mail that they were a Pennsylvania recognized nonprofit. The team filed for 501c(3) status and found out on November 11, 2019 that they are an official…
Coming Home with Grace is finishing their third renovation and design, for Eli (13) and Ella Vivian (10). Eli and Ella were diagnosed with MLD in 2012.
Renovation and design for this project included converting the lower level into a fully accessible bedroom. The team completed this portion of the job in August.
The bathroom will be completed before Christmas so that the space can continue to meet Eli’s medical needs. Rustic Red Door, a local business that designs custom furniture, created a custom vanity for the room . Check out Rustic Red Door online by clicking on the link https://www.rusticreddoor.com/ or visit their warehouse in Perkiomenville. They have beautiful products, but most importantly, they have an amazing team of kind people.
Thanks to the support of local schools, businesses, community members, friends, and family who have graciously donated money and time for the project. People are so good and we are so thankful for the support!
Future goals of this organization include room design and renovations and designing and operating a community center for individuals with special needs in the community. They have a vison that every night of the week Camryn and other people with special needs have the same opportunities for socialization like their neurotypical peers.
Eventually, the team wants to purchase a home in the community for adults with special needs.
“We want it to be part of the community and for the community, not just for adults with special needs. We envision a coffee shop on the premises, open to the community, but operated by adults with disabilities. We want a home that gives adults plenty of space for safely being outside, opportunities for exercise, social events, and a place where adaptive skills can be safely learned. We want this home to be in our community—a community which proves time and time again that giving back is what we do and inclusion is what we firmly believe in,” Kristi shares.
They’d also like to include an accessible wing in the home for families, who have an adult or child facing a terminal illness, to use as a place of respite in honor of Kristi’s father who passed away after a nine-month battle with Glioblastoma.
Kristi mentions, “The sky is the limit. Currently, our projects have been within our own community, but as we grow, our goal is that we’re doing this full-time and that Coming Home with Grace will leave a legacy in the community and beyond. The more manpower we have, the more people we can help.”