In Nocatee’s Austin Park neighborhood, there is a garage filled with the unlikely combination of Ohio State football memorabilia and beautiful, handmade doll houses. That garage, belonging to resident craftsman Brendan Hoffman, might as well be Santa’s workshop to the terminally-ill children in Community Hospice & Palliative Care’s Community PedsCare program, who receive Hoffman’s donated creations each year.
“I normally take (the doll houses) to them about the first week of December,” Hoffman says. “I like them to go to terminally-ill children first, and then maybe a child who lost a parent around Christmastime. They have plenty to choose from.”
Community PedsCare, as part of Community Hospice & Palliative Care, serves children up to age 21 through a number of different programs, including a hospice program for children who have been diagnosed with six months or less to live. Hoffman, who has been donating doll houses to the program for the past eight years, says his project was born out of a promise he made to his daughter, who died of melanoma in 2009.
“When I was growing up, elderly people got melanoma,” he says, “but my daughter was 28 and melanoma skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s the easiest cancer to cure if caught in time, but it’s the fastest and deadliest of all cancers.”
Hoffman spent the last six weeks of his daughter’s life by her bedside in hospice care, and that was where she made her final requests, one of which being that he build doll houses — like the one he made for her when she was little — for children in hospice care.
“I’ve been trying to keep my promise to her,” he says. “I told her I’d do these as long as I can … and if it takes their minds off their sickness, this is all worth it. It really is.”
Hoffman has kept his word faithfully, devoting half of each year to building the intricate houses, even going the extra mile to decorate them with wreathes, garlands and Christmas lights.
“They’re incredible,” Community PedsCare Director Patrice Austin says of Hoffman’s houses. “You can’t even imagine when you walk into a room and see six of them built. It’s like they’ve taken the most beautiful homes in Jacksonville and just shrunk them. And the detail and the love that he puts into them is incredible — you’ve not seen anything like it.”
In addition to the doll houses, Hoffman has also begun making tabletop cornhole sets for boys with the help of his wife. According to Austin, each gift recipient is specially selected by her team based on which child they feel would most appreciate its worth.
“The children are so grateful,” she says. “Some of them don’t have an opportunity to have such a gift, so it’s truly special. And when they learn that someone has made (the gifts) particularly for them to have, it just puts so much meaning on the holiday.”
Others have also been touched by Hoffman’s story and cause. For instance, Brillium, Inc. CEO Curt Rogers, a former neighbor of Hoffman’s, was so moved that he enlisted the help of his business partner to fund the efforts, and the help of his employees to make more gifts.
“We weren’t really sure if this was intruding upon something that was very meaningful and personal to (Hoffman),” Rogers says, “but he allowed us to help, and as it turns out, I think it benefited both the initiative and him in a lot of different ways. It started to become somewhat of a social effort as much as a personal mission for him.”
Rogers adds that his father-in-law, having heard about the project, has also been inspired to follow in Hoffman’s footsteps.
“To date, he’s built a couple houses now that kind of came out of this whole experience we had,” Rogers says. “He’s delivered them to a few places in North Carolina and I think he’s got two or three more in the works, so it’s starting to kind of take on a life of its own.”
For Austin, the thought that Hoffman’s heartwarming mission could ignite a national movement is truly amazing.
“I think it’s a beautiful concept,” she says. “It’s organic and it’s pure, and if he has sparked a movement to join in on such a beautiful gift coming from the heart, it doesn’t get any better than that.”