Jennifer Rohrich
Tracy's Sanctuary House in Bismarck provides temporary housing for families experiencing medical emergencies. (Submitted photo)

Peggy Arndt and Kelsey Zottnick work on Tracy's Sanctuary House during the United Way Day of Caring in 2013. (Submitted photo)

The chapel of Tracy's Sanctuary House, hand-painted by volunteers, is a peaceful area where families can seek comfort. (Submitted photo)

A peaceful koi pond provides space for reflection in the backyard of Tracy's Sanctuary House. (Submitted photo)

In 2004, tragedy struck Kelsey Zottnick and her family. Zottnick's mother, Tracy Rittel, was involved in a car accident, and her injuries eventually proved fatal. Due to the experiences Kelsey and her family went through during that time, they opened Tracy's Sanctuary House in Bismarck to help those going through similar emergencies.

The quaint home is located just blocks from both Bismarck hospitals and offers a temporary sanctuary for out-of-town families when their loved one is facing a life-threatening situation. Tracy's Sanctuary House provides temporary lodging and full-service amenities such as a kitchen, laundry and much more.

"Oftentimes in emergency situations, you just run out the door. Sometimes you don't even grab your wallet," Zottnick says. "We are here to help."

Since 2005, Tracy's Sanctuary House has been providing comfort and assistance for more than 2,000 families experiencing a traumatic or emergency situation. Zottnick explains that the house has become a sort of vehicle for individuals to cope.

"People come to the house and often they find someone they can talk to who is going through a similar situation. They form bonds with one another, can share emotions and honestly discuss their feelings. But most of all, forming these bonds reminds people they aren't alone in their suffering. They aren't the only one," she says.

Zottnick shares the story of a man working up in the oil fields. The man came to North Dakota from California, leaving a wife and three small children back at home. During his time here, he was involved in an accident that left his face as well as much of his body with severe trauma. His wife needed to stay with the couple's children, so the man's mother contacted Tracy's Sanctuary House. She got in her vehicle and drove straight from California. The mother utilized the house for nearly eight weeks while her son started his long road to recovery.

During her time at the house, the mother made friends with another occupant. The two regularly drove to the hospital together to visit their loved ones. Forming personal bonds helped this mother cope during this traumatic time. Once the man was well enough to return to California, his mother expressed endless thanks to Zottnick and the Sanctuary House. She said there was no way she would have been able to afford living out of a hotel room for those eight weeks.

"That is why the house was formed. We will never forget their story," Zottnick says. "It was so moving and touching to know that because of our loss, we can help someone in a similar situation."

Since founding Tracy's Sanctuary House, Zottnick has been able to pursue opportunities bigger than she ever imagined. She has been gifted with a sense of philanthropy and a drive to help others, leading to her inclusion in the Bismarck Tribune's 40 Under 40 list in 2014. Zottnick serves as assistant executive director of Tracy's Sanctuary House and is responsible for the overall operations of the nonprofit organization. On top of working a full-time job, Zottnick dedicates a minimum of 10 to 20 hours each week toward the house. She executes all marketing initiatives, manages volunteer groups, organizes all fundraising events, serves as caretaker for the house and leads the monthly volunteer meetings.

Zottnick says the house is always looking for volunteers. She utilizes volunteers for general house upkeep, to provide assistance and conversation for the families and to help with fundraising and other promotional opportunities. The volunteer group meets the third Monday of each month.

The Sanctuary House takes referrals or recommendations, often from hospital staff, for individuals in need. If you are in need of their services, feel free to contact Zottnick directly. The only requirement Tracy's Sanctuary House has for individuals is that their need be an emergency situation, not a pre-planned surgery. However, Zottnick has recently opened up the house to cancer and dialysis patients to utilize services for up to six weeks while they are receiving treatments.

Tracy's Sanctuary House receives no federal, state or local agency funding. The house operates on donations and earns money through fundraising events. The largest fundraiser, an annual holiday open house, is coming up on Saturday, December 13. The Sanctuary decorates each room and opens its doors to the community for a tour and refreshments from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and all are welcome to stop by.

For more information, volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, call the house directly at 701-258-5889 or visit the Tracy's Sanctuary House Facebook page. Donations can also be made as an anonymous deposit to their account at Gate City Bank.

California-born Jennifer Rohrich lives with her farmer husband in Ashley, N.D. She writes about family, food and farming at