Founder, Fair Haven Foundation
At age five, when other little girls were playing with Barbie dolls, Amanda Milner knew the meaning of the word oncology. Furthermore, she had already determined she wanted to work in the field when she grew up. It was the year her aunt died of cancer.
Looking back, many of Milner’s life-defining moments are linked to the disease. It comes as no surprise that her passion in life is to help others whose lives have crossed paths with cancer.
Growing up in Houston, Milner’s life revolved around her faith. When a church member and a group of his friends rented an old Army barracks to provide free housing to cancer patients and their families, Milner’s church also got involved. “That was a big influence on me,” she said.
Milner married, moved to Indianapolis and worked at IU Health until she started her family. Shortly afterward, at age 30, she faced another life-defining moment. In 2001 she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At the time she was a single mom with two toddlers—a one-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son who had recently been diagnosed with autism.
“In the midst of it I saw God come through for me in so many ways,” she said. “My family, my friends and my church all supported me during that time and did many kind things for me.”
In 2004, Milner returned to work at IU Health as a medical technician. This time her job was in the Stem Cell Bone Marrow Transplant Lab, which serves cancer patients almost exclusively.
“There, I started meeting patients from all over the state who were coming to Indianapolis to be treated,” Milner said. “They are here for two or three months at a time. Looking back on my own experience and with the example I had from my childhood, I felt it was obvious what I could do: provide housing for patients that came to IU from outside Indianapolis.”
In 2007 Milner put her faith into action and began laying the groundwork for Fair Haven Foundation. The Mediterranean Island of Fair Havens, which gave refuge to a ship during a terrible storm, was the inspiration for the organization’s name. Since Fair Haven went into operation in 2008, it has arranged for nearly 5,000 nights of refuge for cancer patients and their families.
The organization provides eligible cancer patients and their families with furnished, one-bedroom apartments at Lockefield Gardens, next to Indiana University Health University Hospital, free of charge.
Milner, 41, now remarried and a mother of four, works three days a week at IU Health. The other two weekdays are reserved for the Foundation. All told, she devotes more than 40 hours each week to the Foundation—taking care of administrative duties, making sure the apartments are maintained and ready for patients, contacting donors, coordinating volunteers and working with local churches.
Each of the six apartments are adopted by a local church, with church members greeting residents with a home-cooked meal, visiting them and offering prayers. Even with her hectic schedule, she still devotes time to visiting with the guest families every week.
“We don’t want to provide just housing,” she said. “We want them to know that they are not alone; that there are people who care about them.”
Remington residents Nora and Dwayne Hopper and their five children stayed at Fair Haven for several months last year while Dwayne, who is now cancer-free, underwent treatment. “The apartment we were offered allowed us to stay together as a family and to go through it as a family rather than being separated,” Nora said. “We are so very grateful for Amanda’s heart and her compassion to want to provide a facility for families so they can get the best possible cancer treatment.”
Sue and Ken Brothers, from South Bend, were recent guests. “Amanda’s just wonderful,” Sue said. “She has been very accommodating. You know she sincerely cares about you. I just can’t say enough good things about how the organization can help people.”
Thanks to an IU Health Values Fund Grant, she’s close to expanding the number of apartments to 10 and making furnished apartments available to organ transplant patients and moms-to-be at high risk. Currently most of the foundation’s funding comes from individual donations. In the future Milner hopes to be able to offer an entire apartment building to patients and their families.
“Having the opportunity to reach out and help others in a similar way that God, my family and my friends reached out to me—that’s redemption and joy to me,” Milner said. “It brings meaning and purpose to my life and to any suffering I’ve experienced. It just feels so good to know that I’m spending my life on something that really matters.”