When 4-year-old Sarabeth Jones had her birthday party this month, she had to celebrate inside the MUSC Children's Hospital.
Diagnosed as an infant with biliary atresia, a rare condition in which the bile duct between the small intestine and liver is blocked, she has been at the Medical University of South Carolina for seven months.
The hospital stay has been rough on the Jones family, who are from North, a small town about 95 miles away from Charleston. Stephanie Jones, Sarabeth's mother, said she and her husband had been living in the hospital for three months before CrossBridge Ministries in Mount Pleasant found them a volunteer's condo to stay in.
"Without them, we would've been lost," Jones said. "We don't feel like we're alone anymore."
CrossBridge, a nonprofit organization founded by Melissa Altman in September, helps families with loved ones at MUSC connect with basic needs every day.
The ministry provides support beyond the tangible necessities in life.
Members of the group visit the families in the hospital at least one or two times a week and whenever they are called upon. Often, they hold prayer circles for the families' loved ones.
Families from all over the country who receive care at MUSC usually have no local family members and no place to stay, CrossBridge volunteers said.
"They are in situations that are bigger than them," Lynn Lavender, CrossBridge's health minister, said.
CrossBridge helps families with transportation, housing, grocery lists, prayer and tries to find resources and explanations for families.
"Everybody needs somebody to advocate for them," Altman said, "We can do that."
It is the small details the ministry provides that really help families feel at home. For Sarabeth's birthday, the group threw a "Happy Feet"-themed birthday party in the hospital room, complete with a cake in the shape of a penguin.
Altman, who was a registered nurse for 18 years, started the organization, she said, because there are so many holes in the health care system for families.
"It was a calling," Altman said. "I felt like God was calling me to help."
Lavender joined in January after hearing about Altman and CrossBridge through church. Both women left established jobs to work full time at the ministry as unpaid volunteers. Altman had been a director at Carolina Family Care and Lavender had worked as an engineer. Though the Mount Pleasant residents both took a huge risk, they said they can't imagine doing anything else.
"I'm continually amazed," Lavender said. "What I get out of it is a blessing."
The 25 volunteer members of their team specialize in different areas of health care, family services and faith support. CrossBridge receives all of the money it provides to families through donations.
Lea and Alan Bryan's 1-year-old daughter, Alana Noel, was diagnosed with leukemia and received a cord blood transplant June 2 at MUSC. During the time, CrossBridge volunteers have visited and prayed with the Bryan family, who live in Greenville.
"It means a lot when you can't go to church and can't be in His house," Lea Bryan said. "It means everything."
CrossBridge is based at Lighthouse Church in Mount Pleasant, which most of its members attend. CrossBridge helps all families who seek help, regardless of economic situation or amount of need, Lavender said.
"We're here to give you help without expectations," Lavender said.
Julie Allen of Mount Pleasant, the pre-school director at Lighthouse Church, was on the receiving end of the ministry's help when her husband had major surgery last year. She then joined CrossBridge and now accompanies Altman and Lavender to MUSC to visit families and offer help.
"Lynn and Melissa really take these people in," Allen said.
CrossBridge will be throwing a Family Fun Day fundraiser Aug. 29 at Palmetto Island County Park. Tickets are $25 for a family of four or more, $10 per adult and $5 for children 12 and under. The event is from noon to 4 p.m. and all proceeds go to CrossBridge. Tickets include door prizes, eye screenings, blood pressure checks and cholesterol screenings.
Reach Kara Apel at email@example.com or 937-5709.