Q&A:Cindy Battista

by Melissa Shepard

Cindy Battista knew she had a calling for hospitality and had the drive to make it happen. After hearing a heart-warming story from a colleague, she knew exactly what she had to do. And that was when she started Grace Guest House, a place for families to stay in times of need to relax and get the rest and assistance they need. Before Battista started Grace Guest House, she worked for National Fuel for 30 years, starting as a secretary then eventually getting into management. She went to ECC and got her Associates degree, then went to Buffalo State where she got her bachelor’s degree. She was going to go to law school at the University of Buffalo, but got the opportunity to work at National Fuel, so she took a different path. Grace Guest House serves families in need, whether they need a place to stay when they are receiving treatment, visiting loved ones in the hospital, or anything generally medical related. To cover the cost of their stay, there is a suggested donation amount. Some people can’t always afford to pay for a place to stay, and Grace Guest House understands that. They’re there to serve you during times of hardship. The scribe sat down with Battista to discuss her work.

The Scribe: What inspired you to start the Grace House?

Cindy Battista: Grace House was inspired ultimately by a colleague’s son’s motorcycle crash down in North Carolina, so that was the ultimate inspiration. The original inspiration was a calling that I had to do something in my community. I knew it would be something in hospitality, but I didn’t have clarity on what kind of hospitality it was. When my daughter was a student in Boston in college, I thought maybe I’m supposed to house starving artists because I knew she would be one, one day. Ha-ha. I had actually looked at this space thinking, oh, this might be great for that and the church next door could be a practice place, but it didn’t resonate. It didn’t feel right. I kept thinking and thinking and put it on the back burner until that one conversation with my colleague when he came back from North Carolina and sort of abruptly said when I thought a conversation was over, “Cindy, you have to hear about the house we stayed in”. They drove down not thinking about not where they were going to stay. Their son was pronounced dead three times, and this house they stayed in was a blessing to them. They had transportation like we do as well as food and lodging. It was him sharing that for what is ultimately now Grace Guest House.

TS: Your colleague’s story is eye opening. I’m glad he was so fortunate to have a place to stay. I think it’s important to feel at home and as comforted as possible during times of hardship. When did Grace Guest House first open its doors?

CB: We opened in November 2017. We had our first family stay with us that month. To date, we’ve served over 300 families.

TS: Wow! It must be interesting to meet all sorts of people and get to know them in their stories, but to also know that you are helping them and making a difference in their lives. What keeps you motivated when you face obstacles?

CB: Most of the obstacles came from 2013 to 2017 during the formative years. I would often hang my head and wonder why I thought I could do this. Then within a week or two someone would show up with that thing that I needed and help me get back up and keep going.

TS: Did you ever doubt that you were going to be able to keep things going?”

CB: I had powerful people in the city tell me this would never take up off the ground, which had me question my abilities and myself. But, now, when I see the number of families we served now and think that if I gave up where would these families had stayed. What would they have done? They might have stayed and slept in the waiting room or stayed home or not been able to get their cancer treatment or maybe they couldn’t afford a place to stay. If I had given up and taken the easy road to just not doing it, what would have these people done. I don’t know. I’m sure they would have gone somewhere, but the fact that they were able to stay here and to be embraced by our mission, embraced by the people who work here, and get a break is just humbling.

TS: That is so humbling. It’s an amazing thing that you started and are able to help so many families during their times of need. It’s a blessing. So, coming to the Grace House from National Fuel, where did you know to start?

CB: It was tough. When you experience a calling, I want to say it was from God, you can’t just forget about it. It drives you and motivates you. It’s just there. And how do you do it? I’m a self-starter. You just do it. I went home that night and started my search. I knew I needed to secure my domain, Facebook, anything to secure it all. Nothing about my experience or work experience prepared me to start a business or be an entrepreneur, yet everything did. Everything fed into allowing me to get to where I am, but not directly, it was more indirect through experiences. Life experiences and tools indirectly led all right up to it. I learned about hospitality from my husband’s family who are from Italy.

TS: That’s amazing. It’s inspiring to hear you say you had a calling and made it happen. How many people can say they’ve done that? As far as the grace house? How do you keep it running since it’s based off donations?

CB: Our program revenue is not nearly enough to sustain us. We’re staffed 24/7 which is a very big expense especially with minimum wage going up and continuing to rise. We try to stay ahead of that. We reach out to the community. We are supported by grants from foundations, big companies who understand what we’re doing and who make pledges as well as individuals who do that.

TS: I saw you have events coming up. Would you share more about those too?

CB: We have two events. We have Soiree on Seneca, which is a primary source of revenue for this time of the year. We raise money through ticket sales, the event itself, basket raffles, 50/50s. That will sustain us for a couple months. In the spring we hold the Light of Grace Breakfast. It’s a free breakfast to attend. It’s like the state of the union, except it’s the state of Grace. It’s a great way for people to hear the stories of the guests we served and see what we are up to. Then at the end it allows people the opportunity to make a recurring gift or donation if they desire.

TS: I can definitely see how things can start to get expensive. I hope the word about Grace Guest House and your mission continues to spread to the community and beyond. What kinds of exciting things are happening here? Are there any new changes?

CB: We just added a resident manager and that in itself is an interesting story. He came to us originally as a guest from the ECMC burn trauma unit. He was local, but his house burned down and when he was ready to be released he had no place to stay. The hospital called us and told us about his situation. They asked if we would allow him to stay with us.

TS: That is amazing. All of the new changes sound so exciting. Any final thoughts, you want the community to know about Grace? What can the community do to help you make a difference?

CB: In a big way we’re making this impact, but very quietly. The impact on these families, Melissa, they come from everywhere, all over the country. It’s amazing.. Also, if they want to do fundraising for us, that’s amazing. Maybe if they’re having a garage sale and want to donate the proceeds, we’re grateful. We would be so grateful. Sending a check or getting friends together and contributing a small amount helps too. It’s expensive to operate a house like this. Donations of products are always welcome. Fresh items are always needed. If you live in the neighborhood and could call us, and say hey, you need milk or yogurt? That sort of stuff, that’s expensive. It’s a home. Whatever you buy on your list for home, we probably need it here too. If you pick up one for you and pick up a second something for us, it helps. If people wanted to make meals and bring them in, especially freezable things, that makes things easier for us too. Getting word out about this into the community helps. Thank you so much, Melissa.

The community can contact us to volunteer or call the house at (716) 829-7240.

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