The three Co-founders of Circle of Friends for the Dying, Elise Lark, Laurie Schwartz, and Barbara Sarah, represent a cumulative number of years—nearly 100!—of experience in the issues of hospice care, dying, and death.
The inspiration for Circle Home came after oncology social worker Elise Lark discovered the comfort care home concept and visited a number of homes in upstate New York. She brought her vision to local healthcare professionals and community leaders in Ulster County, and in 2012, Barbara Sarah and Laurie Schwartz joined with Elise to launch Circle of Friends for the Dying, a non-profit organization chartered to open a home for the dying here. The plan was to serve those with the greatest need and the fewest options. At the time, there were no comfort care homes in the Mid-Hudson Valley, which underscored the urgency of CFD’s mission.
When Kingston resident Jim Gohlke’s life was winding down from a long bout of cancer, he spoke with Elise and founding Board of Directors member, Dr. William Gooch, of his wish to give his stately home in Kingston’s National Historic Rondout District to CFD for the designated purpose of caring for community members at the end of their lives. Shortly after this conversation, Jim died.
This took place as CFD was in hiatus mode due to the COVID pandemic. We’d halted plans to renovate another smaller house we owned until our tenants could safely move out, and we refocused efforts toward fundraising and educational outreach through death literacy projects, such as Advance Directives workshops and our monthly Death Cafes.
While moving through the legalities of the bequest with Jim’s daughter, Jennifer Gohlke Khan, we sold our first house, taking advantage of a robust real estate market in our region. That home now belongs to a local Veteran. To their credit, Jim’s children chose to honor their father’s wishes–their only request being that Circle Home would carry Jim’s and his wife’s names.
100 Wurts Street was deeded to CFD in December, 2021. The house has been completely renovated, and Jim & Lisa’s Circle Home has been outfitted to accommodate two residents at a time under hospice care. The ground floor offers ample space for reading, conversing, and relaxing. With round-the-clock staff and volunteers managing our residents’ basic needs, they can utilize the full kitchen, dining room, family room, and elegant living room to simply spend precious time with family members and friends.
The installation of a home elevator gives our residents safe transport to two bright, beautiful bedrooms on the second floor. A third bedroom suite can be offered to a resident’s out of town visitors when needed. A small enclosed garden with a pond makes for a pleasant outdoor visiting area, as well.
This is what we’ve been visualizing for nearly a decade—a safe, comfortable dwelling to offer people who want and need a home, not an institutional facility, in which to live out their last months and days.