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Amy Torrez, Owner of Paul's Place in Fort Wayne, Providing Adult Patients with a Home Away from Home

Amy Torrez is the founder of Paul's Place here in Fort Wayne Indiana. The mission of the company is to provide adult  patients with a home away from while they are here seeking medical treatment.

Imagine you just got a call from your mother informing you that she's been diagnosed with cancer. A number of thoughts consume you as you take in this difficult news, but the first thing you ask is what are the next steps. Your mom tells you that she plans to start treatment, but the only place with the treatment she needs is hours away from where she lives, and she will need to be there for the next several weeks. Without question, you offer to go with her to help her through this challenging battle. You start looking into places to stay close to the hospital you'll be taking your mother to. After looking into several options, you realize that staying in a hotel or Airbnb for this long will be very expensive. You know your mom needs this treatment, so you take out your credit card and book the room anyway. You arrive at your hotel and get everything into your new space for the coming weeks. During your stay, all you hear is kids running through the halls, slamming doors, people talking in the room next to you, and you and your mom are having a hard time finding a way to get comfortable. You wished there was a more homelike place to return to after your long days at the hospital that was quiet and didn't require the financial strain this loud hotel did, but there was no other option.

This situation happens to hundreds of adults seeking treatment in other cities from where they live throughout the United States. Fort Wayne was one of those cities until 2015, when Amy Torrez founded Paul's Place. When we talked to Amy, we asked her what Paul's Place is today. She said,

"Our main mission is to provide temporary housing to adult patients and their caregivers when they travel to Fort Wayne for medical treatment. So, if they are getting chemo or radiation treatment at Parkview Cancer Institute or Fort Wayne Hematology and Radiology, their case manager will connect them with me, and we will set up a time that they can stay at our housing unit. We have a two bed, two bath single story corporate leased apartment with an attached two car garage that we provide for the families, and it's fully furnished."

She went on to say that the unit is fully equipped with everything families will need throughout their stay, including dishes, silverware, pots and pans, towels, beds, clean linens, and all paper products they may need.

Amy Torrez grew up right here in Fort Wayne. When she described her childhood, she said it was pretty average. She grew up attending a catholic church and attended catholic schools all the way through high school. She believes that her experiences in the church helped shape the values she has today when it comes to being a good person, morally and ethically. When Amy was nine, her parents separated, and would eventually get divorced when she was eleven. Although her parents were not together, Torrez says they had a great co-parenting relationship and were both at all of her important events growing up. While Amy was in high school, her father, Paul, received a heart transplant at Lutheran Hospital when it was located downtown off Fairfield Ave. He was the 52nd person to receive a transplant in Fort Wayne, so it was still considered experimental, but it went exceptionally well. After graduating high school, Torrez moved to Austin, Texas, where she would attend the University of Texas. About a year later, her father also moved to Texas to be closer to her. She graduated in May of 1999 and set out to find her dream job in Austin. In September of that same year, she got a phone call from her dad that would eventually change her life forever.

He informed her that he was in the hospital in Houston and wanted her to come down for the weekend, so she did. Once she arrived, her dad proceeded to tell her that the doctors had just diagnosed him with lymphoma, and they believed it was caused by the anti-rejection medication he had to take for his heart transplant. The plan was for him to stay at the hospital and get started on some medication, and they would see what happened through the weekend. Amy's mind at the time took this information as the doctors taking the weekend to get a better game plan together, and on Monday, they would proceed with some sort of cancer treatment. Later, she would find out that the doctors didn't expect her dad to live through the weekend, but against the odds, he did. On Monday, they created a plan that would involve him taking a pill version of chemotherapy for two weeks. When that was over, he was strong enough to undergo a stronger version of chemotherapy. Throughout this time, Amy had been staying with a friend. Still, she knew her father would be getting treatment for at least several more weeks, so she wanted to find somewhere she could stay more long-term. She still had her apartment in Austin, so getting another apartment was out of the question. She couldn't afford to stay in a hotel for an extended time, so she didn't know what to do. Throughout the next few days, she began searching for options, and through a casual conversation with one of the nurses, they told her they could help her with a place to stay. The next day, the nurse handed Amy keys and an address. The nurse proceeded to tell her that a local church was providing her with a fully furnished apartment that she could stay in throughout her father's treatment, and the only thing she had to do was provide her own food; all other expenses were taken care of by the church.

Throughout the next several months, as her father continued his treatments, Amy got a job at a hospital on campus to save money to get an apartment in Houston so she could stay closer to her dad permanently. Before Paul's final round of treatment, the doctors told Amy and Paul that the lymphoma was gone but they wanted to do one last treatment to ensure they got it all. When he completed his treatment Paul decided to take a trip back to his home near McAllen, Texas to take care of a few things for a week. During that week, Amy found an apartment in Houston and signed a lease. Soon after her dad returned to Houston, Amy was given the keys to her new apartment. She began moving things from the church's apartment to her new place. During the move, Paul stayed back at the old location to nap while Amy continued moving her things. On her final trip back to the old apartment to get the last of her belongings, Amy found her father on the bathroom floor. He had suffered a massive heart attack and sadly lost his life in March of 2000.

After the sudden loss of her father, Amy decided to move back to Fort Wayne. She wanted to be closer to her family as they all grieved the loss of her father. Throughout the next several years, Amy went on to get married, have children, and work within a few different companies. During that time, she never forgot what she had gone through. In 2015, she began thinking about all the ways the church had helped her in Houston. Providing her with that apartment allowed her to focus solely on her father and not have the financial stress to deal with during an already difficult time. She thought about how Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana while also being so close to Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois, and with us having two large hospitals here, she was sure there had to be a lot of out-of-town patients coming here for treatment. She began thinking of ways she could start something similar to what she experienced in Houston, and this was when the idea to create Paul's Place was formed.

Paul's Place helps out of town adult patients at Parkview Randallia, Parkvire Reginal Medical Center, and Lutheran Hospital with temporary housing while they are in Fort Wayne Indiana seeking treatment.

When we spoke with Amy about this time, she said,

"At the time, I didn't have the financial ability to do this myself, but I had the experience. I worked in the hospitality industry all throughout college. I worked in insurance, so I knew something like (housing for patients) would never be covered under insurance. I also worked under property and casualty, so I knew this was a good business model."

She went on to talk about how we have the Ronald Mcdonald House and the Hope House for pediatric patients, but we didn't have anything specifically for adult patients, so she knew she needed to fill that gap. She just didn't know how. So, for the next few months, Amy went on to talk to Lisa Pacula the executive director at Ronald Mcdonald House, and Andrew Gritzmaker the executive director at Hope House. Torrez asked them what they thought of her idea. Both gave her great feedback, encouragement, and advice. They would continue to help guide her throughout the next few years, and in March of 2017, Paul's Place was officially accepting families.

When we asked Amy what the most challenging part was when she first started Paul's Place, she told us it was definitely funding. She said,

"When you first start out, no one wants to fund you. Our first big grant was from the Lutheran Foundation - I think that rolled into my father getting his first transplant at Lutheran. We also had some angel investors and small fundraising events to reach small goals like funding the lease of the first apartment and then funding the rent for the year. We had events like sponsor night for families where you could donate $49, and that sponsors one night for a family. So, smaller amounts here and there kept adding up to where we needed to be. People donated furniture and decor; it was just a lot of everything and everyone coming together."

She went on to tell us that after they signed the lease for the first apartment, they were able to expand to three fully furnished apartments for families over the next few years. During that time, Amy began looking into applying for some of the larger grants they had been waiting to apply for. When Torrez first started the company, Lisa with Ronald McDonald House had advised her to hold out on some of the larger grants until she could show their growing statistics to better her chances of being selected. If she was chosen for this grant, Amy planned to use the money to build a house for Paul's Place families to stay. This house would allow her to move Paul's Place out of the corporate leased apartments and into a more homelike environment within a neighborhood. The plan for the house was to build a home with three bedrooms. Each room would have a sitting area, kitchenette, full bathroom, and separate door to the bedroom. The main level of the house would be a communal full kitchen and living room for families to use if they wanted to be more social with other families experiencing similar situations as themselves. This house would create the perfect space that held true to the business motto, "at home while away from home." Around the time she was preparing to apply for the grant, Amy purchased land, got the permits from the city to build the house, and had a developer and building plans ready to go. All she needed now was the grant, but then the pandemic started.

Paul's Place apartment is located off of Lima Road in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Amy Torrez is the owner of the non profit helping patients with comfortable housing while they are getting medical treatments.

Throughout COVID, Paul's Place sadly had to let go of two of their apartments, which in turn caused them to turn away several families that were coming to them for help. With the loss of these apartments, they could no longer apply for the big grant they needed to build the house because they no longer had the proof that Paul's Place was thriving like it was pre-COVID. Today, they still intend to build the house; they just have to raise the funds differently than they originally intended. In the meantime, they are still placing families in the apartment and helping them throughout their treatment in any way they can.

We asked Amy how families know about Paul's Place. She said,

"During that first year, I spent a lot of time talking to the nurse care navigators, the hospital social workers, the nurses, really everyone that was talking with the families at the hospital every day. This was on the recommendation of the two executive directors I talked to. They said these people will be my direct line of communication to confirm families are here and when the last day of (their) treatment is. I talked with every department throughout the hospitals and Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana. Some families even call us directly instead of getting referred by the hospitals because they've seen what we're doing through social media."

She explained that once families have been connected with her, she is with those families every step of the way until they check out of Paul's Place. Amy greets the families on the day of their arrival. She provides them with the keys to the unit and a packet of information if they ever need anything. Soon Paul's Place hopes to provide additional services such as a nutritionist for caregivers to help them learn how to make nutritious meals for their sick loved one or how to create meals if the patient is on a strict diet. They would also like to have a yoga instructor and massage therapist available if caregivers or patients ever need something to help them distress, even if it's just for an hour. The information for these services would go into the information packet provided to families at check-in and Amy would also like to hire a guest coordinator. This person would work with the families ahead of check-in to book these services and make sure caregivers and patients are more aware of these services throughout their stay with Paul's Place. Amy said,

"We know they're going through a lot, and they are not in their usual state of mind to be able to remember everything we have to offer, so to have that person there to remind them is something we'd like to do."

As for the future of Paul's Place, Torrez plans to build the communal living home soon and hopes to be able to expand by building more homes throughout Fort Wayne in the coming years. She hopes to one day hire a few employees to help her with the day-to-day operations. The big dream would be to expand the company nationally by building homes in other cities nationwide with large hospitals to help more families needing the services of Paul's Place. We asked Amy what the best way is for the community to help, and she said,

"Attend events! We are also looking for our Faithful 100, which are donors who donate monthly. Whether that's $10 a month or $100 a month, we would absolutely appreciate anyone who can commit to something like that. Sharing our content on social media to spread the word of what we're doing helps a lot, too."

I asked Amy how many families they have helped since they first started taking in families. She said that between 2021-2022, they've provided 456 nights of comfort, and so far this year, they have helped with 216 nights of comfort. She went on to explain that although they've had the ability to help so many families, they have also had to turn away several families due to not having a place for them to stay. She said that in 2021-2022, they had to turn away 297 nights of comfort, and so far this year, they've had to turn away 267 nights, which is more nights than they have been able to help. She went on to say that turning away families is so difficult for her because she knows these patients need their treatments, but without the housing, it makes it very difficult for them to get to it. This issue is why getting the funding to build these homes is so important. Having three rooms to fill at a time will allow her to help more people while keeping the expenses low.

Through case managers with local hopsitals in fort wayne, out of town patients are connected with Amy Torrez, founder of Paul's Place to help them with temporary housing while they are getting treatment.

When we asked Amy what her advice would be to someone hoping to start their own non-profit, she said,

"Keep remembering your why. It's not always going to be easy; there will always be an uphill battle you will go through. It's consuming emotionally and financially, so you have to make sure it's powerful enough why to keep pushing. Going through COVID, almost all of our events and grants dried up. There were a few times where I almost lost my car or my house because I wanted to make sure the mission was being taken care of because there were so many families that needed this to live. There were people who stopped going to treatment because they had nowhere to stay until Paul's Place was available. I knew my family would be okay; we have a large family here in town, and the kid's dad is here. I knew we would never be homeless or starve, but knowing that the alternative of Paul's Place closing would mean someone wouldn't have the ability to go to treatment kept me pushing. So make sure you keep that why for when things get rough. If it's true in your heart and passion, God's going to provide for something to happen. It's not going to be an easy road, but it's going to be a fulfilling one."

Amy Torrez has a huge heart, and with her help, she's been able to help so many families during the most difficult days of their lives. She is so passionate about what she is doing with Paul's Place; you could hear it in her voice the entire time we spoke. If you would like to help Amy continue her mission of providing a home away from home for adult patients seeking medical care here in Fort Wayne, consider attending one of Paul's Place fundraising events or become one of 2024 Faithful 100. If you're interested in learning more about Amy's story, she will be speaking on October 6th during the First Friday's event at Lutheran Campus in the Kachmann Auditorium. To sign up for the event, click here. The event is free, but you do need to reserve your spot. Torrez also has a podcast called Embracing Adversity, where she speaks with people about how they overcame the most difficult times of their lives. She says the hope for this podcast is to inspire and encourage other people who may be going through similar situations to know they're not alone and help them overcome whatever battle they're currently facing.

The Fort Wayne Business Journal sends a huge thank you to Amy Torrez with Pauls Place for allowing us to share her stroy. If you like reading about entreprenuers journeys, being in the know with weekend events, and being informed about important local happenings follow us so you always know whats happening at the fort wayne business jounral.

We want to send a huge thank you to Amy Torrez for allowing us to share her story with you and for being so open with us about her journey. We want to thank Nike with Creative Roots Media for capturing these pictures for us to use throughout the article. If you enjoy reading these stories about local entrepreneurs shaping Fort Wayne, subscribe to our newsletter so you're always informed about what's happening here at the Fort Wayne Business Journal.


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