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With a proud grin, Grace House executive director Polly Carl tours the newly opened second facility for end-stage AIDS patients. "It's really beautiful, isn't it?" Carl says, responding to compliments during the grand opening reception April 19.
Like the original South Minneapolis home started in 1990, Grace House II features four suites for men and women with AIDS in need of 24-hour care. What distinguishes the second house from hospices -- and even the first house next door -- is its elegant yet comforting design. "We really try to make it a place where people can have that sense of dignity, especially because so many people come here at the end of their lives," says Carl. Four new residents move in this month, and they will have a warm, inviting place to call home.
Grace House II, which broke ground last August and was constructed throughout the winter, was a collaborative effort involving two architects, 16 interior designers and $200,000 worth of in-kind donations. Each suite has been distinctively designed with eclectic furnishings, such as a commissioned painting and chicken figurines. Lending a bit of conformity, all the patients' quarters feature hide-a-beds for visitor sleep-overs, separate bedrooms, and private bathrooms. The lavish home is so well finished that even the elevator is hidden behind maple wood doors, but Carl's favorite installation is the remote control retracting window treatments. "Those days when everything is going wrong, you can come over and control the blinds," she half-jokes.
Although life at Grace House certainly is not always such a celebration, the last year has been a time of changes for the better. In addition to the expansion, two residents recovered from what seemed to be end-stage AIDS and left the home to live independently; one of them now works as a volunteer there. "We're really in a new phase where, for some people, we can be a transitional housing where they come to us extremely ill," Carl says. "We're able to get them access to new treatments, good medical care and manage their medicines."
Despite the benefits of improved treatments, the need for facilities such as Grace House continues even as some AIDS hospices have closed. Carl notes a visible shift in the population that needs accommodations like those Grace House offers: There is now a higher instance of poverty and chemical addiction among resident candidates. Care givers and volunteers (who number around 100) have consequently had to learn how to deal not only with AIDS-related complications but also with such issues as drug withdrawal.
Although the staff is adjusting to a new facility, new residents and changing treatments, they have already determined the next project. They are giving the first house, a former rectory for the Parish of Saint Joan of Arc, a face lift. Says Grace House director of development Judi Watters, "The [first] house is structured in the same way but doesn't have that design element in it. That is something we are going to do to liven it up."
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