Danielle House provides home away from home
by Luke Eggleston
Sun staff writer
Binghamton resident Diane Stento still vividly recalls the day that changed her life forever, the day she received the news that her daughter, Danielle, had been hit by a drunk driver while she was crossing the street in a city four hours away.
She also remembers clearly the strain of waiting in sterile hospital rooms for weeks on end without a proper bed or normal companionship.
Finally, she also remembers the relief she felt when welcomed into the home of Karen and Bill Allen, friends of a professor Danielle Stento had grown close to while attending the University at Buffalo.
Stento found the support of the Allen family invaluable during her stay in Buffalo. At one point, she was spending time in their home watching live footage of the Berlin Wall as it was dismantled. Stento was engrossed in a conversation with Bill Allen, a history professor, when she realized that she had momentarily forgotten about her daughter’s situation. The experience enabled her to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Supporting a loved one in the hospital is exhausting. You need to reenergize,” said Stento, whose home parish is Ss. John and Andrew Church in Binghamton. “When you’re going through that experience, you don’t think it will ever end.”
Transmitting that same sense of relief and friendship has been Stento’s personal mission since 1999 when she began the process of founding Danielle House, a place of refuge for those whose loved ones are ill.
Danielle House has served over 900 families and is celebrating its seventh anniversary on Jan. 23.
Danielle House, named after Stento’s daughter, includes all the comforts of home, but most importantly, according to the founder, it provides camaraderie and support.
When Danielle was initially admitted to the emergency room, her head trauma was so severe, the doctors were doubtful of her chances to survive the night. She spent months in therapy and, to this day, requires 24-hour care.
Volunteer Jane Ehrich first met Danielle Stento 15 years ago. Ehrich had been struck by a drunk driver in a head-on collision and had also suffered severe injuries, including a bruised heart and a collapsed lung. Ehrich, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament in Johnson City, contacted the Stentos on the advice of her spiritual therapist. Danielle has been an inspiration to Ehrich ever since.
“Spending time with Danielle was part of my healing,” said Ehrich, who still spends time every Wednesday at the Stento home. “Spending time with Danielle was such a humbling experience.”
Ehrich found companionship to be invaluable during her healing process. Ehrich has extended her own hand to the guests of Danielle House ever since it opened.
“Danielle House is a sanctuary for those in need,” she said. “It provides a safe, loving and compassionate place to stay while dealing with a health crisis or trauma in a loved one’s life. I am very honored to be a part of it.”
Danielle Stento herself has found the facility named in her honor to be an important part of her own spiritual growth as she routinely meets the families staying there.
The first chapter of Diane Stento’s quest to establish Danielle House began in Buffalo, but it continued 10 years later in Binghamton. Always soul searching for a way to give back what had been given to their family through the years, Stento was inspired to embark on a new mission: she would found a home that would provide the same love and support that the Allens had give them in Buffalo.
The mission was not without its challenges. Despite being sympathetic and supportive of the Danielle House plan for a property on Beethoven Street, the Binghamton Zoning Board could not justify granting it a variance. Stento had already met with professionals from Binghamton’s medical facilities, including Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, and received their support. She had also received extensive consultation from Mary Keough, the director of Sarah House in Syracuse, to whom she had been introduced by Father Tim Taugher, the pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Binghamton.
Finally, a new facility located on Riverside Drive became available.
After their daughter’s accident, the Stentos had become very active with Broome County’s Stop DWI efforts. One of their main projects was the fund raiser called the Danielle Run. The financing for a new facility was already partially in place through the Danielle Run.
The Danielle Fund organization was still lacking nearly $150,000 for the new facility. Crowley Foods matched the funding that was in place and then a second fund-raising campaign generated the remaining amount, roughly $80,000.
During a visit to a local foundation, Stento was asked what her plan was. With limited fund-raising experience and none for writing grants, she was not sure how to respond. She simply said, “It’s not my plan, it’s God’s plan.”
Despite the agency’s skepticism, it presented Danielle House with a grant.
“Everything in this house is a miracle,” she said.
The Bricks family recently stayed at Danielle House when their daughter, Amanda, was hospitalized following an automobile accident. They conveyed their thanks for the facility in a Christmas letter published in Danielle House’s newsletter.
“The love and welcoming hope that was offered to them at that hurting time in their lives is something they say they will never forget,” the family conveyed through the third person. “Amanda’s older sister Ashley confirmed that: ‘When we couldn’t go home, The Danielle House brought home to us.’”
A member of the board of directors, Ehrich praised Danielle House’s volunteers and supporters.
“All who are involved in the Danielle House mission are God’s angels,” she said.
St. Thomas Aquinas Church parishioner Rosemary Shea had recently retired from her career as a dental hygienist when she responded to an advertisement calling for volunteers at Danielle House when it first opened. Her own mother had passed away very recently. Shea knew how important it was for her mother to be able to enjoy the comforts of home while she was ill.
Shea is the volunteer coordinator and it is her responsibility to make sure Danielle House is staffed at all times. She said it’s important that potential guests are able to talk to a person, rather than having to negotiate a phone tree.
“You need a real person, not a machine,” she said.
Marie Truillo, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Assumption, grew up in the same neigborhood as Stento. She initially heard about Danielle House following the passing of her aunt, Marie Salamida Murphy, who had asked that loved ones donate to either Danielle House or Mom’s House in lieu of sending flowers.
When she arrived at the house to make the donation, Stento asked Truillo, who had recently retired from teaching in the Binghamton School District, if she would be interested in volunteering at Danielle House.
Truillo agreed and has been a fixture at the home ever since, taking on some of the more thankless tasks such as cleaning the bathrooms.
She said volunteering has been very rewarding. She considers it a way to honor her late aunt and it also fulfills her desire to help others.
“It’s hard to put into words. I just want to help people who need it,” she said. “I consider myself a servant. I would do this for anybody but I also believe I’m doing this for the Lord.”
She believes the spirit of Danielle House could be a model for service organizations.
“If everybody thought about someone else, the world would be a better place,” she said.
Danielle House has been a home away from home for people around the world including Iran, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Kenya, as well as people throughout Broome County. Its central location makes it ideal for those whose loved ones are at health and treatment centers in the Triple Cities.
Shea noted that Danielle House is always open to more volunteers. She warned, however, that volunteers should not expect a “pat on the back every day,” stressing that serving people in need is their top priority.
“We’re always happy for more volunteers,” she said. “It’s a lovely place to volunteer and if you meet one guest then you know that forever.”
For more information on Danielle House, call (607) 724-1540 or visit www.daniellehouse.org.