For childhood cancer patients in the northeast U.S., the Tommy’s Place Foundation has become a beacon of humanity by providing free weeklong vacations for the patients’ extended families on beautiful Cape Cod, MA. After two years of fully booked stays for more than 100 families at the first home in Falmouth, the foundation’s second location in nearby Centerville is now complete and hosting its first guest families.
Like the first home, founder Tim O’Connell worked closely with donors, contractors, artists, and manufacturers to secure financial contributions, as well as donations of time and products, to transform a 7,000-square-foot 19th-century inn into a 21st-century vacation paradise complete with activities, kid-friendly designs and modern smart home technology from Snap One.
The 10-bedroom home delights guests with hand-painted themed rooms depicting popular cartoon characters, a Lego room, an Audrey Hepburn room and more, while a Control4 automation system provides simple control of every light in the home.
“Some families wait a year to stay at Tommy’s Place, and after several tragic deaths that occurred before families’ scheduled stays, I began working on the second location because there truly was no time to waste,” O’Connell explained. “We take referrals from nine different hospitals, including the University of Massachusetts and University of Vermont Children’s Hospital, and some of the care providers now consider Tommy’s Place a part of the healing process. We are excited to be able to welcome twice as many families now and deliver twice as much joy to families that really need it.”
Operating the first property taught O’Connell that in order to provide a carefree vacation experience, a home needs to be simple to navigate, right down to the light switches. When the organization acquired the property, it quickly determined major infrastructure upgrades were needed to provide modern comforts, such as adding whole-home climate controls, updating a bedroom hallway which had only one light switch at one end and installing a robust wireless internet network to provide Wi-Fi and ensure all the home’s electronics and TVs have reliable connections.
Snap One was involved in the first Tommy’s Place home, again offered O’Connell more than $100,000 in donated equipment and helped sign up local integration firm Extreme Audio & Video to manage the design and installation of all the new electronics and systems.
“This home was one of the most challenging projects we’ve worked on, but it’s also the most rewarding,” said Extreme Audio & Video owner Mike Astin. “Buildings of this age can present major obstacles such as outdated electrical wiring and variable construction materials, but we were able to overcome them using modern wireless technologies including the C4 smart living system, Access Networks networking equipment and a Lutron smart lighting solution. It’s always great to be able to give back to the communities we work with and live in, and to know that we played a role in lifting spirits and creating memories for families working through unimaginable circumstances.”
While the home has 10 bedrooms and is designed to accommodate 18 family members at a time, there are only four TVs, which helps promote more family activities instead of more screen time. For those that want to have an extra special family movie experience, an outdoor TV made by SunBrite provides guests with a unique way to enjoy their favorite content while an Episode outdoor speaker system provides pro-quality audio.
The space-themed arcade room, puppet theater, arts and crafts room, full-size toy bar counter and kids library entertain kids through rainy days and snowy winters, while an oversized sandbox in the backyard offers fun for the whole family just a short walk from the beach. Essentially, every element of the home is designed to inspire wonder and induce smiles.
“This initiative has become so personal and so meaningful to all of us involved, and we showed that in the second house by including a wall depicting kids cheering on the new guests, featuring former guests who have since passed away,” O’Connell added. “We added more themed rooms here because we saw how the kids’ eyes light up when they see them – it really gives the same ambiance as a theme park. Part of what makes the vacations so special is that they can invite their extended families at no cost, and we’ve even had some guests who had various people come and go throughout the week. Many of these families are not able to plan destination vacations because of medical or financial reasons, so giving them this local opportunity can be a magical experience.”
That experience relies on everything going smoothly, which is where the behind-the-scenes technology comes in. The Control4 system and Lutron lighting switches allowed Extreme Audio & Video to significantly upgrade guests’ control, including adding a master button that can turn all the lights off at night so they don’t have to walk around checking each room. It also enabled the placement of new wireless light switches in hallways and other areas with out-of-date designs. Select areas including the kitchen and master bedroom also have wall-mounted touchpanels that offer lighting and climate control.
Another key feature ensuring the property’s long-term success and visitor enjoyment is the OvrC remote system management solution, which allows Extreme Audio & Video to immediately view equipment status, change settings and reset devices all from their smartphones. This is critical to ensure important components like the wireless access points function properly, and it can even alert the tech professionals to problems before they are noticed by the users.
“We want every stay to be effortless so everyone can enjoy themselves,” O’Connell said. “To that end, we fill up the pantry with basic staples each week and provide gift cards for the local grocery store. With so much to do at the house and so little to worry about, some families don’t even leave the house even though the beach is right down the street. It’s especially important in the winter, and we have had full-time bookings 52 weeks a year since the day we opened.”
Due to demand exceeding availability, the trips are awarded through a lottery. Partner hospitals can refer New England resident patients between ages 3-17 who are currently undergoing treatment to be entered into the lottery. Once each week’s winners are determined, the families have 48 hours to confirm or deny the booking. Currently, the inaugural house in Falmouth is booked through 2023, with both locations expected to fill 2024 bookings by this fall.