zottnick_headshotBy Marci Narum

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:6

Kelsey Zottnick says she never imagined herself as the executive director of Tracy’s Sanctuary House. But it’s been her full-time job since July 2016. Even before that Kelsey assumed responsibility of a long list of duties at the nonprofit.

“I took on everything from operations, volunteering, and fundraising, all on top of my full-time job. That was a huge learning curve and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at the time. It became a calling to me. I was checking people in, I was on call 24/7 as I am now, and doing everything I am now. It really became a passion of mine.”

Tracy’s Sanctuary House is a five-bedroom home in the heart of Bismarck. It provides short-term housing for people from out of town needing a place to stay when a family member is in an emergency medical situation or when receiving outpatient cancer or dialysis treatments.

“People can stay 24 hours up to six weeks and we ask for a free will donation. It does cost us $250 a day to keep the doors open.”

Kelsey says that’s where she comes in. A big part of her job is education and awareness about Tracy’s Sanctuary House and raising money to keep the doors open. Funding a vital position like hers is a cost too, but Kelsey is willing to work hard to raise money for her salary as well as operational expenses—because Tracy’s Sanctuary House is in memory of her mother, Tracy Rittel. And it was founded by her father.

“He had this direct vision of what he wanted it to be and look like,” Kelsey says of her dad, Bruce Rittel. “He wanted it to be very homey and comforting and also a very spiritual place for someone to go during a medical emergency.”

Bruce envisioned a space like Tracy’s Sanctuary House because it’s exactly what he and his family needed but didn’t have when Tracy died in a car accident near Fargo in August 2004. They were far away from home with no place to gather, grieve, and comfort each other.

“All these loved ones were there with us and there wasn’t a suitable place to gather other than a waiting room in the middle of the chaos of an emergency room or the hotel lobby where we were staying,” Kelsey says.

The experience planted a seed inside Bruce. In December 2005 Tracy’s Sanctuary House opened and has served more than 3,400 families.

“There are hard weeks and good weeks,” Kelsey explains. “Every time I get to check in a family it reminds me why I’m doing this. This is more important and I’m glad I’m able to serve others and do it in memory of my mom.”

Find out more at tracyssanctuary.com and on Facebook.