Why I Open My Home to Strangers

by Anne Tonachel

In 1997, when our children were all grown up, my husband Dick and I moved from the suburbs to Cambridge, right near many Boston hospitals. We bought a condo with an extra bedroom, and we shortly thereafter read about Hospitality Homes in the paper. Getting involved with them seemed like a great way to do something useful with the space.

We’ve been hosting people for more than 15 years now, and every individual and family is different. We’ve celebrated with some, cried with others, but it’s always meaningful. We love having people from all over the world stay at our home. One couple from Italy stayed with us while their baby was being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital. When we traveled to Italy on vacation they returned the favor. It felt like we were visiting old friends.

Anne and Dick Tonachel serve as hosts for Hospitality Homes and volunteer at Dana-Farber

Several of the families who have stayed with us were seen at Dana-Farber, so I saw the impact that a cancer diagnosis can have. But when I found out that what I thought was a kidney stone was ovarian cancer, in 2005, it still hit me like a ton of bricks; I was now a Dana-Farber patient myself.

Suddenly, I had a whole new perspective about what people have to go through. I was lucky; I was able to sleep in my own bed with my family, neighbors, and friends by my side throughout my treatment. I couldn’t imagine dealing with cancer or another disease in a strange place, so Dick and I have worked to make our home welcoming to everyone.

We don’t push people to tell us their situation, but we’re there to listen if they want to share. I don’t hide my own status as a survivor, and request other cancer patients as guests – especially those with ovarian cancer. In several cases I’ve had mini One-to-One Program sessions with patients facing the same disease as me.

Dick and I both volunteer regularly at Dana-Farber as well, and serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council there. We’ve been married nearly 50 years; I know my cancer could come back at any moment, but I don’t waste my time worrying. Our experiences and how we share them with others make it possible for them to feel more comfortable during a difficult time.

Hundreds of people have stayed with us, from singles to families of five or six. We have made plenty of friends and exchange Christmas cards with about a dozen families. People ask why we open our home up to strangers, but I don’t think there are many real strangers left in the world. Life presents itself in so many forms, and these experiences are what open our eyes to reality.


Anne Tonachel is a retired preschool teacher and longtime Dana-Farber volunteer. With her husband, Dick, she is also a host with Hospitality Homes, which provides free lodging to families traveling to the Boston area for treatment at 29 local hospitals and medical centers including Dana-Farber.

15 responses to “Why I Open My Home to Strangers

  1. Anne, You and Dick are truly amazing people. I am honored to have the opportunity to learn from you. Your commitment to Dana-Farber, as well as the greater community, is inspiring. Thank you for all you do. Sincerely, Katie Keavany

  2. We are fortunate to have known this wonderful couple. Though we have not seen them for a number of years, we are not at all surprised that they are sharing their home and life in this way.
    Marlene and Hal Lobo

  3. Anne and Dick-
    You continue to inspire the many people who interact with you at Dana-Farber. Thank you for all that you do and for not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.
    Best wishes,
    Laura Hallisey

  4. Very cool! You are both great people, with big hearts. With all the terrible stories out there lately, your story is a welcome change.You are living examples of how to “Pay it Forward”, and I wish nothing but good things for you ahead.
    Jim M. (also a survivor,thanks to Dana Farber)

  5. Anne and Dick, your story touched my heart this morning, You see, I am the mother of Pamela Jones, for whom Hospitality Homes was originally founded. In 1972 while living in Los Angeles, we received the devastating news that our ten-month-old daughter Pam had neuroblastoma, a rare and deadly form of pediatric cancer. Through reserach we found that The Jimmy Fund, now known as Dana-Farber, was doing the most advanced work with neuroblastoma and we moved to Boston to have her treated here. She was one of the first children to survive neuroblastoma and was treated under the supervision of Sidney Farber himself. Sue Gracey, who became a neighbor and friend shortly after we moved here, eventually learned of the circumstances of our move here, which was that during the first week of our initial two-week investigative trip to Boston all hotels were full because of conventions in town and The Jimmy Fund put us up in a vacant medical office in the Longwood area. At night and weekends we were the only people in the building and it was a very diffcult burden on top of dealing with our daughter’s illness. Sue started volunteering to The Jimmy Fund and Children’s Hospital the use of her spare bedrooms. Her husband, Colin Gracey, is an Episcopalian minister and through the good graces of the diocese they provided free office space to get the program started. My daughter Pam just had her 41st birthday and while she has had many medical challenges throughout her life, she is still with us, for which we are most grateful. People like you who are willing to share their homes with patients and families who have to travel here for care bring great comfort to families who are already stressed. Bless you.
    Doris Jones

    1. Doris,

      We, at Hospitality Homes are thrilled to reconnect with you. What a wonderful way to begin our 30th anniversary celebration! It would be our pleasure to speak with you by phone (our number is 888-595-4678) or by email (cgoodman@hosp.org). Please do be in touch.

      Most sincerely, Caryl Goodman and the entire Hospitality Homes community

  6. Thank you for showing real compassion by helping strangers in your home. You have the gift of hospitality in great measure. I helped start a Ronald McDonald house (where folks can briefly reside and take refresment) in Columbia, MO back in the 1970’s when my son survived leukemia and we wanted to show our gratefulness. It made all the difference for families of patients who had to come long distances to get treatment and visit their loved one. God is smiling!

  7. Anne and Dick Tonachel truly are compassionate people and together with nearly 100 other volunteer host families make it possible for Hospitality Homes to provide free housing to patients and their families traveling to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. We extend our deepest thanks to Anne, Dick and all out volunteers for always going above and beyond for others.

  8. Anne and Dick, thanks for sharing your light with us, Dana-Farber employees. Particularly, thanks for helping out with the new employee tours. Take care.

  9. The Tonachels made it possible for me to participate in a trial at Dana Farber. At the end of a five hour drive there was a warm bed, and a warm smile to greet my husband Tom and I. Their kindness and generous giving of time continues endlessly for cancer survivors. Anne initially reached out to me through an ovarian cancer network and offered to meet with me at Dana Farber. Through hard work and determination Anne continues to orchestrate venues for women living with ovarian cancer to find support from each other. Anne and Dick Tonachel have been two angels in our lives.

  10. Thanks for helping others and giving them a place to stay while someone is receiving help from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute! Thanks for being there if they want to talk. There is the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago that helps families and people with someone receiving medical treatment and they offer people a place to stay.

  11. May God bless you for all you do. I lived in Maine and was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2012. I was treated at DF and had a stem cell transplant at Brigham. I spent part of my time when I wasn’t an inpatient at Hope Lodge and the rest at a hotel. Everything was quite overwhelming as I was by myself. I would loved to have been able to utilize a Hospitality Home had I known then that they were available. You are so very compassionate and generous to offer your home to people…I know it really makes their stays in Boston much less stressful!

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