Spare Key allows families in health crisis to ‘bounce and not break’

Spare Key is a 501(c)3 organization helping families in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Spare Key is a 501(c)3 organization helping families in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

One mortgage or rent payment made for families with ailing children

by Jennie ZeitlerStaff Writer

Minneapolis non-profit Spare Key was started in 1997, after founding couple Robb and Patsy Keech experienced the stress and heartbreak of numerous hospitalizations and surgeries for their son, Derian.

Because nobody can be in two places at once, one of the biggest challenges during that time was whether to keep working to pay their bills or to be with Derian to provide love and support for him.

Although the Keeches’ family members and friends made sure their mortgage was always paid, they realized that not every family has that safety net.

Spare Key’s program director, Nikki Lignell, received two housing grants during her daughter, Riley’s, hospitalizations. The second grant allowed her to be with her daughter during her last month on earth.

Spare Key’s program director, Nikki Lignell, received two housing grants during her daughter, Riley’s, hospitalizations. The second grant allowed her to be with her daughter during her last month on earth.

“They wanted to pay it forward,” said Spare Key Executive Director Erich Mische. “They wanted to help families with their biggest household expense so they could focus their time and attention on their child.”

In nearly 17 years, the organization has made housing payments for close to 2,200 families totalling $2.2 million. It’s a mission that gives stressed families hope.

“All of our funding is private,” Mische said. “We rely on the generosity of individual donors, corporations and foundations. We also have several fundraisers every year.”

This year’s gala fundraising event, “The Groove,” was held in March. About $400,000 was raised with 600 people attending.

Spare Key’s ambassador program allows housing industry professionals to donate to Spare Key each time a transaction is closed.

Spare Key began by providing housing grant assistance to families in Minnesota with a seriously ill or critically injured child in the hospital. In 2012, they helped 209 families.

In 2013, they expanded into North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, helping nearly 500 families.

“Our board and staff are committed to see us help as many people as we can,” said Mische. “We hope to add a few more states in 2014 and 2015.”

Spare Key’s program director, Nikki Lignell, was a two-time recipient of a housing grant during her daughter, Riley’s, hospitalizations.

“The second grant allowed her to be with her daughter during the last month of her life,” said Mische. “What we do is very real — giving time to be with a child.”

To be eligible for the program, families with children 18 and under who have been in the hospital 14 out of 90 days must show some impact on their income or expenses.

The family must be current on their rent or mortgage. There are no income guidelines.

“Our goal is to give families the opportunity to catch their breath and to focus on the immediate need to be with their child,” Mische said.

Working with families locally, Spare Key has helped 16 families in Morrison County, while serving eight in Todd County and 60 in Stearns County.

“This amounts to nearly $90,000 in housing grant assistance,” said Mische.

A grant from Spare Key pays one month’s rent or mortgage. At a time when not a lot of things may be going right, that is enough to give families the gift of time that allows them to “bounce and not break.”

“That phrase came about during an interview with a mom whose family had been helped,” Mische said. “The most rewarding thing about the whole program is the absolute selflessness of people who are willing to donate to an organization that helps people they will never meet. People donate without any expectation.”

Most of Spare Key’s referrals come from hospital social workers.

“It’s a pretty extraordinary experience to be involved in,” said Mische. “It shows the tremendous goodness of people.”

Anyone needing Spare Key’s services may call (952) 406-8872.

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