Grace Guest House
A haven for families with loved ones in the hospital
Grace Guest House
Photo by Christine A. Smyczynski
Cynthia Battista always felt like she had a calling to do something beyond her career at National Fuel, perhaps something in hospitality.
In November 2013, she had a conversation with Mike, a co-worker whose son had been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in North Carolina. Mike sung the praises of a health care hospitality guest house that his family stayed in while his son was in the hospital there. Battista immediately knew that operating a guest house like this could be her mission.
That evening, she did some research and discovered that there was nothing like a guest house in her South Buffalo neighborhood near Mercy Hospital. She talked it over with her husband, Robert, who gave her idea the go ahead. She already had a name for it–Grace–because she knew that by the grace of God it would happen. By February 2014, Grace Guest House was incorporated, with Cindy, Robert, and Cindy’s co-worker, Catherine Martorana, serving as the first three directors.
They initially purchased a building on Abbott Road, close to Mercy Hospital, and gutted it. However, they soon realized that they would need a much bigger space. A few years earlier, Battista had looked at the former St. John the Evangelist Church and rectory on Seneca Street being sold by the Diocese of Buffalo. However, another party ended up buying the buildings. Battista contacted the new owners and told them she would be interested in the rectory if they ever decided to sell.
Two years later, they contacted her to see if she was still interested. “I looked at it with my board of directors,” Battista says. “They all liked it, and we had a benefactor write us a check so that we could purchase it.” She adds, “Originally, Grace was going to provide a haven and respite to patients and their families when receiving care at Mercy Hospital. However, it turned out that Grace’s capacity actually exceeded Mercy’s needs, so now the guest house serves families from all other area hospitals, including ECMC, Roswell, Buffalo General, Sisters, and Millard Fillmore Suburban.”
The location of Grace Guest House is a godsend to people who live in the economically depressed Southern Tier of the state who don’t have a lot of money to spend on accommodations and food when they have a loved one in the hospital.
Grace Guest House is much more than a bed and a meal. “They are nourished in every way here,” says Battista. In addition to a place to stay, Grace offers emotional support from counselors. A local massage therapist donates her services, as does a local hairstylist. Often skilled tradesmen will donate their services to assist with home improvements. “This house has been lifted and supported entirely by the community; the community is what sustains us.”
People find out about the guest house in a variety of ways. There are posters at the hospitals, and social workers, patient advocates, and doctor’s offices have information and brochures. Since opening just over a year ago, close to 250 families have stayed at Grace Guest House, with an average stay of four nights.
The guest house has a total of eight bedrooms and six bathrooms; three of the bedrooms have private baths. Most rooms accommodate two to three people. Guests pay by donation if they are able; the suggested donation is $40/night per room with a shared bath or $60/night with a private bath. About three-quarters of their guests are able to pay; but it serves all families regardless of their ability to donate.
While positive outcome with a loved one in the hospital is always hoped for, there is the possibility that he or she may pass away. In that event, families are able to gather at the guest home to plan the funeral, and the staff is there to offer support.
The guest house has nine paid employees: Battista, who serves as executive director and Kevin McLaughlin, director of mission and philanthropy, are full time. Seven part-time employees take care of the day-to-day operations, as the guest house is staffed twenty-four hours a day, every day.
There are also many volunteers who help out, including Battista’s mother and others who help out with tasks like answering the phone, ironing pillowcases, doing landscaping, and even just talking with the guests in the evening.
As she was showing me around the guest house, Battista introduced me to Justin, a young man with developmental disabilities hired through a state program they became familiar with after attending a talk about hiring people with disabilities. “Guests adore him,” says Battista. He works three or four days a week cleaning rooms, cutting the lawn, raking leaves, and doing other tasks around the house. Battista adds, “He’s such a blessing, and he takes pride in what he does.” She went on to say that they hope to hire another developmentally disabled person in the near future and provide Justin the opportunity to have a hand in training them.
How can you support Grace Guest House?
In addition to volunteering your time or services, you can participate in the two fundraisers held each year. This past fall marked 4th annual Juice & Jazz at the Grapevine banquet facility. This fun, party-like event featured basket raffles, a silent auction, and a buffet dinner. In the spring Grace hosts Light of Grace breakfast, with a “State of Grace,” annual report. This hour-long morning event features a continental breakfast, guests sharing their experience at the guest house, a short video presentation, and Battista speaking about the vision of Grace Guest House. The next breakfast is scheduled for May 2, 2019. “It’s a morning that moves people,” says Battista.
Attendees can make a monetary donation; any gift is appreciated, from $5 up to $1,000 or more. Those who make larger donations become members of the Champion for Grace Giving Society.
For more information about the services they offer or to make a donation, call 829-7240 or visit graceguesthouse.org. Grace Guest House is located at 2315 Seneca Street, Buffalo.
Christine A. Smyczynski is a freelance writer and blogger and author of Western New York Explorer's Guide.