‘Tommy’s Place’ Provides Magical Vacations to Extended Families Managing Childhood Cancer Diagnoses

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When the first guest family showed up at Tommy’s Place in Falmouth, Massachusetts in July 2021, a decades-long dream finally came to life. Designed as a retreat for local Massachusetts families dealing with childhood cancer diagnoses, the Control4-automated 11-bedroom 19th-century inn on the famous island of Cape Cod offers a one-of-a-kind vacation destination for entire extended families where every turn reveals colorful splashes of whimsy and kid-friendly amusement. 

From the backyard’s restored 1951 fire engine, life-sized chess board, SunBrite outdoor TV and Episode surround sound to the game room and the “stargazer” room complete with space suits, a telescope and a constellation-themed ceiling, Tim O’Connell, founder of the Tommy’s Place charitable organization, has transformed the once-neglected building into a resort-level accommodation that rivals the fun and imagination of leading theme parks.

“The goal of Tommy’s Place is to provide a year-round retreat where families of any means can enjoy a truly care-free week with non-stop entertainment for kids,” O’Connell explained. “It’s so important to let these kids be kids, and so valuable to help emotionally-stretched families make joyful memories, that I couldn’t even wait for it to be fully finished before opening for our first visitors. The amount of donated labor, materials, technologies and community involvement required to bring Tommy’s Place to life reflects our belief that families dealing with childhood cancer deserve a destination vacation even if they can’t take the whole family to Florida or California.”

Nobody knew what to expect that first week, and some of the uncertainty is by design. In the lead up to the grand opening, O’Connell intentionally avoided promotion of the home’s specific toys, games and designs so each family that visits can experience the same surprise and sense of wonder as they explore the many uniquely-designed rooms. In addition to creating excitement through discovery, this approach allows the organization to make changes over time without affecting visitors’ expectations or promising specific activities will be available.

Tech Ties it all Together

While the home’s renovation and design was a years-long project, major new components were still being added just weeks before the July launch. According to local smart home technology expert Adam Zell of Boston Automations, what began as a service call to troubleshoot a TV turned into a six-week-long charitable project to outfit the entire home with donated smart home equipment from Snap One.

“I’m a regular here in Falmouth, so I knew about the Tommy’s Place project and supported the mission, but once I actually stepped inside and saw how much heart had been poured into it, I felt compelled to add what I could to the experience,” Zell said. “When a family comes to Tommy’s Place, they shouldn’t have to worry about maintaining the property, and everything that can be a fun experience, should be. Since managing an 11-bedroom house with up to 30 people isn’t on most visitors’ list of fun activities, I applied my knowledge and leveraged all my professional relationships to make every activity in the home as care-free and simple as possible.”

Zell spent the next six weeks sourcing product donations from manufacturers and volunteer labor from friends, resulting in a massive technological upgrade that adds to the fun. After hearing of the project, Snap One became a proud donor and Zell used the Control4 smart home system and a variety of accompanying technologies to give the home remote control of lighting, TVs, audio, electronic door locks, plus a enterprise-grade network from Access Networks so everyone can be connected whether they are in the yard or playing inside.

“I consider the families my guests,” O’Connell said, “and I want them to be able to relax the entire time they are here without needing help or staff. The technologies Adam installed eliminated a lot of potential difficulties, including the reality of staying in a home with nearly 100 lighting loads. Nobody wants to walk around for 10 minutes each night to make sure the lights are off and the doors are locked, especially on vacation. With the Control4 remotes and touch panels placed throughout the home, they don’t have to. A single button for ‘nighttime’ is all it takes.”

With so many unique rooms to explore and opportunity for families to split up in different areas of the property, a key concern for O’Connell was that everything electronic must work without issue and without requiring instruction. This made the Control4 system the ideal solution, because it is one of the easiest and most reliable smart home systems available, with a user interface so intuitive that most people can operate it without any training – especially kids who’ve grown up with technology all around them.

Each TV has a Control4 remote with a touchscreen that makes it easy to control lighting and choose video sources while offering familiar buttons for all TV functions. This extends to the backyard as well, where a 75” 4K SunBrite TV and SunBrite soundbar provide a magical outdoor theater experience. The outdoor space also has its own zone in the home’s multi-room audio system, featuring eight Episode landscape speakers and an in-ground burial subwoofer that can turn the yard into a party at any moment.

It’s hard to overstate the detail and creativity apparent in every inch of the property, which features the work of multiple artists and designers who donated their talents and time. With so much hard work involved and such high expectations for the long-term value of the property as an escape for families, Zell and O’Connell saw fit to add several Luma surveillance cameras to the security system. Similarly, Zell installed a number of WattBox power protection devices that ensure all the expensive electronic equipment is secure from power surges and provide OvrC remote maintenance capabilities that allow him to troubleshoot minor issues from other locations, such as a router that requires a reset.

“Summer is Cape Cod’s prime tourism season, but we’ve created such an inviting property that our first few guests told us they ended up not even doing most of their planned local adventures, and instead spent almost all their time at the home,” O’Connell added. “That’s partly due to all the technology and toys the kids can play with, and it’s a truly wonderful development, because it means Tommy’s Place can be a year-round retreat even when the local community slows down for the winter.

Snap One’s donated equipment also extends into the unseen parts of the smart home system, including Strong TV mounts and VersaBoxes and cabling from Wirepath and Binary.

As families continue to arrive each Sunday, O’Connell is marking the first successful summer for Tommy’s Place. Hoping to replicate the property in other areas, and even other states, the long-term goal is to provide locally-accessible adventures and entertainment for more cancer-affected families. This case study can’t possibly list all the features, designs and experiences the visiting families are treated to, so for more information, photos and testimonials about the value Tommy’s Place provides, visit www.tommysplace.org.

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