New Crossroads House executive director feels at 'home'
It’s a familiar-sounding story for most executive directors of Crossroads House: though the job is primarily administrative, it’s the care, compassion and the easy-going homey environment that lures one in to embrace the mission and the home.
Charlotte Crawford is no different in that respect; she wanted to be involved with caregiving ever since she was a child, she says. Her path to the nonprofit strays a bit, however, because she didn’t purposely pursue a permanent position. Quite the opposite, in fact, as she admits she was ready to “retire, retire,” with no inkling to look back.
“My husband laughed at me and he said, ‘You're never going to retire.’ And he's probably right. Because as long as I can find something I'm passionate about, I'm going to keep doing it. And this place, I'm exceedingly passionate about,” Crawford said during an interview at the house on Liberty Street, Batavia. “My father passed away here 11 years ago. And the care that he received from the people that were here was bar none. I'd worked in a hospital and I didn't see care like that. And the vast majority of the people here have no real medical training. These are people that have a desire and a true passion to help other people. They just want to give.”
A registered nurse since 1979, Crawford has worked in many different scenarios, from nursing in a hospital and home care to working in doctors’ offices and providing long-term services. Through it all, she experienced something completely different than at Crossroads House, she said. It wasn’t until she saw how death could be done — with peace, dignity and lessened fear while doing, eating and being what one wants — that she wanted in.
Crawford was a board member for two and a half years before accepting the interim executive director role in March 2021. Here’s the “funny” thing, she said: “My intent was only to be interim until they hired somebody else.”
“And then I got in here, and I loved the place to begin with,” the Darien resident said. “When I got in here, and actually got to work with the amazing volunteers, and the other people in this house, I was just blown away at the care and compassion. And I had to become part of it.”
She was hired as the permanent director on June 15. As with many others who have dedicated their hearts to the place, Crawford has a personal and professional background there. Her father was not at the House for long — just four days — and yet during that time, Crawford had the opportunity to be something unique to her ill father after tending to his medical needs at home for so long
They watched old videos, and made dad his favorite chocolate pudding, and eggs just the way he liked them. There was relief, and even some fun, she said.
“The experience was amazing,” she said. “I went from being a caregiver to being a daughter. It was like a weight had been lifted. It was very peaceful here.”
She has quickly gone from a near-future retiree to an executive director with a mission or two. A big goal is to further educate people about the uncomfortable topic of death and to raise awareness of what Crossroads is all about.
So what’s a key element of dying that people should know?
“Everybody dies,” she said. “The hard part is not knowing what you don’t know, understanding that not eating is the dying process, for a family to know what they’re experiencing is normal. And it’s hard.”
And her other mission? To remain as executive director for as long as she can. She’s committed to the long haul, she said.
“I love the fact that I can come down here and talk to them, making sure they get what they need, making them feel like it’s their home too,” she said. “My goal has always been to help people, and my niche is medical. Everyone gets to be like family; I love that. This is home.”
Crawford credits founder Kathy Panepento for establishing in 1998 what surely will be her biggest legacy: an end-of-life comfort care home with the mission “to help you live your best life until your last breath.”
The biggest challenge so far, Crawford said, has been retaining a large core of volunteers for the round-the-clock resident care, plus helping with fundraising, housekeeping, property maintenance, office work, and gardening duties.
Other new staff includes Director of Development Vicki Johnson and Volunteer Coordinator Ashley Manuel. They will also be profiled in this series.
Top photo: Charlotte Crawford in one of her favorite places at Crossroads House -- a resident's room. Photos by Joanne Beck.