Maggie to the Rescue

by Laurel C. Wemett

CareFirstNY provides residents with hospice, palliative care, grief support and mental health counseling services across Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties. For anyone experiencing the loss of a loved one, the nonprofit offers a range of services, resources and programs including “Grief Packs” for youngsters. Inside these special backpacks are tissues, a stuffed animal, along with an age-appropriate book about grief and a grief workbook. 

Now, thanks to a dog named Maggie, the Grief Packs and other grief support initiatives will be paid for by sales of Maggie of the Crooked Lake. This new children’s book, written and published by Gary Pierce Brown with illustrator Bonnie Brooke Mitchell, is aimed at youngsters 4 to 7 years old. It tells the story of how Maggie, a shelter dog, and Mr. Brown helped each other after his wife, Martha, passed away.  

“When my wife was terminally ill, CareFirstNY helped our family in multiple ways, including by providing staff that came to our home,” explained Brown, a retired pastor who lives on Keuka Lake. 

CareFirstNY provides individualized care to seriously ill patients and their families in three Southern Tier counties, primarily in their home. The organization, headquartered in a former school, has 96 paid staff, 27 active patient care and administrative volunteers, plus 150 event volunteers.

Martha and Maggie’s moving story helps others

Martha adopted Maggie, a female mixed-breed dog who resembles a large black Dachshund, in 2011 at the Finger Lakes SPCA shelter in Bath. The book’s gentle story and illustrations tells how both Maggie and Gary felt lost without Martha, “the woman with the kind face.”  

“For me, Maggie of the Crooked Lake is one small way I have found to do personal grief work,” Brown stated. “I hope this story will succeed in passing along a hopeful and helpful message to children and their families. Children lose pets and grandparents and other loved ones, and I believe they need books that deal with death as a part of life.”

“All of us at CareFirstNY were both shocked and pleasantly surprised when we heard about Gary Brown’s generous offer to share the proceeds of his book with our organization,” said Chelsea Ambrose, senior director of clinical services and mission engagement. 

Sales of Maggie’s book will also keep the lights on and pay expenses at Bampa’s House. The two-bedroom renovated house in Corning provides care for the terminally ill. The comfort care home was established by Brown’s high school classmate with her family’s help. “They saw the need when their brother, known to his grandchildren as ‘Bampa,’ was terminally ill,” Brown said.

Salaried staff at Bampa’s House includes a full-time nurse director, a part-time volunteer coordinator, part-time fundraising coordinator, and three nighttime caregivers. There are 75 caregiving and non-caregiving volunteers.

“We were humbled when Gary reached out and told us he would like to have the proceeds from this book be split between our home and our partners, CareFirstNY,” said Bampa’s House Communications Officer Erin Dugan.    

Second Children’s Book 

Brown and Mitchell’s first book, Willy of the Crooked Lake (2015), focuses on Maggie’s predecessor, Willy, a cocker spaniel rescued by the Browns as he trotted along a highway. Those book sales supported a new Finger Lakes SPCA shelter in Bath, raising an estimated $40,000 with nearly 2,000 books distributed. Income provided matching funds for challenge grants, bringing in another $50,000.  

“I was not at all surprised that Gary had another book in mind,” said Mitchell, who’s artwork graced the pages of Willy of the Crooked Lake.“ His desire followed closely the happy success of our working on the Willy book.” 

Willy is more about the dog and less about the people, with a much simpler story, says Mitchell. “The difference in approach was the result of the story line, which had to get the hard parts presented carefully with respect for Gary and Martha.” 

Mitchell, of White Plains, frequently visited her Keuka Lake friends of nearly 50 years. Her illustration credits include a storybook, Catch the Moon and a coloring book Storey’s Sunny Day Coloring Book.

End-of-Life Care

CareFirstNY depends on Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance for the Hospice program, along with donations and fundraising events like Petal Pushers, its popular annual geranium sale. “We also receive funding for our mental health counseling services through Family Services of Chemung County,” Ambrose said. Services are provided to approximately 750 families in the Southern Tier region each year.

“Know us before you need us,” Ambrose added. “Dealing with chronic illness, end of life and grief are some of the most difficult things people can ever experience. None of us want to be furiously searching for resources in a time of crisis. These are challenging topics even during good times, which is why it is so critical to know about the services CareFirstNY provides. If you know us now, it will help make it easier to navigate those tough times together in the future.” 

Bampa’s House does not charge its residents or their families or receive any kind of reimbursement from Medicare/Medicaid/Insurance. Operating costs depend on annual fundraising events like Pour & Pair Picnic, a dinner and entertainment event, silent auction, 5K race, golf tournament, plus smaller fundraisers – the Memorial Paver Path and a Luminary event. In 2022, Bampa’s House served 37 residents and had 342 visitors. Stays ranged from one hour to 137 days. “We rely solely on the kindness and generosity of our community,” Dugan said. 

“Though our focus is on end-of-life care, Bampa’s House is more about life than about death,” Dugan added. “Our home is full of light, love, laughter, respect, peace and dignity. We become an extension of our residents’ families, allowing our residents and their loved ones to focus on the time they have together while we take on the caretaking and financial burdens that typically come at end of life.”

Where to find Maggie of the Crooked Lake 


3805 Meads Creek Road,
Painted Post, NY 14870

Bampa’s House 

170 E. First Street
Corning, NY 14830


57 Shethar Street
Hammondsport, NY 14840  

Cost of the book is a minimum donation of $15.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *