Life can change in a heartbeat.
Jennifer Comen can attest to that as director of Sarah House, the only adult hospital hospitality house in Central New York. She first volunteered for the organization, driving guests to and from area hospitals.
"I am amazed every day at what the people [who have stayed] at this house have endured," Comen said. "All of them have touched my heart."
Sarah House, named after Abraham's wife in the Book of Genesis for her kindness, patience and hospitality, serves families of patients seeking medical care in the Syracuse hospitals. It provides lodging, transportation, meals and comfort to veterans, senior citizens, low-income families and guests whose extended stay away from home may create a financial hardship.
Comen recalled the family of a 70-year-old woman from Auburn. Her children traveled to CNY from all corners of the country for a family reunion. While the mother and her son were running errands, they were broad-sided by another car while sitting at a red light. The mother suffered spinal injuries and was put on life support for more than two months before she died.
Last August, Sarah House hosted the families of four young men in their 20s; all separate accidents that occurred in the North Country. One of the men went home within two weeks, another was left paralyzed by his injuries; one never regained consciousness and died two weeks after his accident, and the last family lost their son after he spent two months in a coma.
"It is stunning how quickly life changes," Comen said. "These are the families that need for us to be there for them - everyday people facing unexpected situations. You go home and hug your family and remember to try not to sweat the small stuff. You just never know."
Mary Keough founded Sarah House in 1993; her nephew Billy was the driving force behind her inspiration. When he had to undergo a bone marrow transplant, his family stayed in a hospitality home in New Hampshire. Keough identified the need for a similar type of service in Syracuse.