• Joseph Michelli

Josh's House in the Trees

April and Donald Brenneman are the parents of five children. Their youngest child, Josh, was four when he developed Ewing sarcoma. Prior to his diagnosis, the tight- knit family would do sleep-outs on the deck of their home. April shared, “We’d throw pads and blankets down and had this tree right by the deck that I called the Bilbo Baggins party tree with lights hanging in it. We’d read books and turn down the lights.”

While going through treatment for his rare form of cancer, many people asked Josh if he had a wish that he would like fulfilled. Josh repeatedly responded that he wanted to sleep with his family in a “house in the trees.” Through the efforts of members of the Brennemans’ church, Josh and one of his sisters helped draw plans for that house, integrating a tree from the family’s back yard. Soon, a host of volunteers (some friends and some strangers) built Josh’s house. A video of the treehouse construction can be found at The “house in the trees” not only served as a safe and sacred place during Josh’s treatment to remission but also through his ongoing battles with post-treatment pain. As Josh got older, the treehouse was not in constant use. The family decided to mitigate their financial challenges by listing Josh’s House in the Trees on Airbnb.

As the Brenneman children grew up and moved out of the family home, the couple have listed several rooms on Airbnb.Many of April’s most personal host experiences link to guests in Josh’s treehouse. April recalls, “One most precious guest was a little girl who had cancer. It was very important to her and her parents that they stay at Josh’s House in the Trees and the family cherished their time here. Sadly, they contacted me about a year later as their daughter was losing her battle. At that time, her wish was to return to the treehouse and we immediately made the space available to her and her family at no charge.” April told me she wanted to do more than sit with the family, offer understanding, and provide that special space for the child and her family. It’s hard to imagine that more could have been done—certainly nothing more memorable or personal.

Josh’s house in the trees is a special and memorable place thanks to the "SURPRISING KINDNESS" of those who built it and thanks to the gracious hosting of the Brenneman family. In truth, every home, product, or service interaction can also be memorable when we are SURPRISINGLY KIND.


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