The multi-million-dollar project, named after creator of the Falmouth Road Race Tommy Leonard, was funded entirely by donations, said O’Connell, and includes enough room to accommodate a child’s family, extended family, and friends. The refuge has an inground swimming pool, game rooms, and sports facilities.
Tommy’s Place succeeded beyond O’Connell’s wildest dreams and has been occupied by a family every week since opening. Tommy’s Place is currently serving its 45th family and is booked well into 2024.
To keep up with demand and ensure as many children as possible get to experience the magic of Tommy's Place, O’Connell plans to open a second location in Centerville.
“We're in the business of making fun for people, you know that’s the return on the investment now," he said. "It's bringing a smile to the face of the kids who are fighting cancer."
'Disney without the rides': Quincy man brings magical vacations to children with cancer
O'Connell recently appealed for donations with a goal of raising $3.5 million. From just two donors he has already received $1.5 million.
O’Connell said he expects to close on the Centerville property, formerly the Fernbrook Inn, on June 1 for the price of $2.5 million. He anticipates it will take another $1 million to transform the building.
When completed, the home will include about 10 bedrooms, a recreation room, a movie room and an outdoor playhouse, just to name a few amenities.
How did Tommy’s Place get started?
The idea for Tommy's Place began in 2007. That's when a tenant who was supposed to rent one of O’Connell’s Martha’s Vineyard properties for a week cancelled at the last minute.
Rather than let one of his friends or family members use the property, O’Connell drove to Tuft’s Children Hospital in Boston to see if any of the sick children and their families would be interested in a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.
“I still don't know to this day, it was like something else was driving my car that day,” O’Connell said.
A young cancer patient named Grifyn Sawyer and his family took O’Connell up on his offer. Grifyn died before O’Connell could meet him, but the boy's mother and grandmother gave letters and photos to O’Connell, expressing their gratitude and documenting the time that they had.
They told O’Connell that they hadn’t seen Grifyn smile the way he did that week in a very long time.
The old Elm Arch Inn: Quincy man restores Falmouth inn for kids battling cancer
That experience inspired O’Connell to pursue building a dream vacation home for children battling cancer, so that they could experience the joy that Sawyer did.
O’Connell left his job of constructing homes in Martha’s Vineyard and sold all his properties to dedicate his life to building Tommy’s Place. His appeal for donations went out in 2018, but the response was initially slow.
It wasn’t until 2020, when O’Connell began working on the Falmouth property formerly known as the Elm Arch Inn that the donations started to flow from supporters who O’Connell calls “angels." Tommy’s Place was up and running in July 2021.
“We had union workers working side by side with non-union workers, sharing brushes and sharing stories, sharing paint, and sharing lunch," he said. It was the most enjoyable construction site that I’ve ever been on, just the positive energy that was in the house, and everybody pulling for the same reason, for these kids."
Now, with the help of a few more angels, O’Connell hopes to make the dream come true again in Centerville.
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Falmouth vacation home for kids with cancer to open second location