‘Listen to your gut, be kind, and try really hard’

“The Children’s Inn is a place like home,” said Jennie Lucca, CEO of the Children’s Inn at NIH. “It’s really a place of hope for families who travel from all over the world seeking lifesaving treatments for their children.”

This week, Women of Washington hosts Aileen Black and Gigi Schumm talked with Lucca, who spoke passionately of the work she does with the Children’s Inn.

The Inn will be hosting its fourth annual Evening for Hope gala on April 29 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. The gala is the biggest fundraiser that the Children’s Inn hosts all year, Lucca said. “It brings people from government, and it also brings people from various industries. You walk in that room though, and everybody that’s there truly supports the mission of the Children’s Inn.” Information about the gala is available on the Children’s Inn website.

“We rely on the generosity of our community to keep our doors open,” Lucca said. She emphasized that although it has NIH in its name, the Children’s Inn is not a government institution but a private nonprofit organization.  “That’s our biggest challenge and our biggest misconception,” she said, adding, “We are responsible for raising almost $9 million a year to keep our doors open.”

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Lucca then went on to explain who the Children’s Inn serves. “These are children who are participating in clinical trials at the NIH,” Lucca said. “Our job at the children’s inn is to provide them a place to stay free of charge with supportive services so that they can really focus on their child’s health while they’re at the NIH.”

Lucca added that the Children’s Inn not only provides lodging to sick children, but also helps further the medical research done at the NIH.

“The mission of the children’s inn is really twofold,” she said. “It’s supporting those families, but it’s helping to advance the medical research mission of the NIH. So the Children’s Inn, the families, the NIH, we work together to bring new treatments and cures to people all over the world.”

Lucca’s passion for the mission of the Children’s Inn is also personal. When she was a young teenager, she said, her brother was involved in a very serious accident. Lucca credits that event as the inspiration for the work she does.chch

“It’s very easy for me to relate to the families at the children’s inn because of that very personal experience,” she said. “It’s what lay the foundation [for me] and brought a greater understanding, and I think because of that personal experience, I knew I could help.”

“We didn’t have a Children’s Inn when my brother was in his accident, but for families who come to the Children’s Inn, parents don’t have to worry about the siblings,” she said.

“We don’t want families to think about where they’re going to sleep, where they’re going to eat, how they’re going to get information, we want to take care of everything,” Lucca said of the Children’s Inn.

Lucca has been with the Children’s Inn for 14 of its 26-year history. She has been the CEO for three years, where she followed a founder of the organization who had been chief executive for many years.

When asked if she felt the pressure of leading the organization and making her own legacy, Lucca said, “I had more fear leading up to the transition than I do now. I think it’s more the pressure I put on myself.”

“I knew that I couldn’t be her,” she shared, referencing the previous CEO, “and our leadership styles are so different anyway that I knew I had to forge my own path and my own vision to carry the organization forward, and that’s what I’ve done.”