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WellSpan BrightSpot: Purple birthday party makes her feel 11 again

May 19, 2022

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Elaine Bashore shows off her purple birthday cake (left) and smiles with her family and WellSpan Philhaven team member Brenda Startoni (bottom right, in pink) and Susan Blouch (top left, in purple), who threw her a birthday party.

Elaine Bashore shows off her purple birthday cake (left) and smiles with her family and WellSpan Philhaven team member Brenda Startoni (bottom right, in pink) and Susan Blouch (top left, in purple), who threw her a birthday party.

Who: Brenda Startoni, WellSpan Philhaven crisis intervention manager in Lebanon, and Elaine Bashore, a Lebanon resident. 

What: Brenda, a matter-of-fact and empathetic woman, has been working with Elaine’s family, including her husband and her two adult children, for almost a year. The family has struggled with health problems, mental health challenges, and chronic homelessness, living in several temporary hotels, an unheated garage, and a tent over the past few years. Elaine has arthritis and lung issues and uses a walker. Brenda partnered with Lebanon Rescue Mission to help the family find stable housing in a former church parsonage in Lebanon. 

Brenda was helping Elaine, who was 65 at the time, to schedule a health appointment on April 11, when Elaine said, “Oh, that’s my birthday.” Elaine mentioned to Brenda that she only had one birthday party in her life, when she was a child. Her family did not have money for birthday or Christmas presents. 

Brenda reached out to Susan Blouch of the Lebanon Rescue Mission, who also works closely with Elaine, and said, “Let’s have a birthday party for her.” 

Elaine’s favorite color is purple, so her 66th birthday party had a purple theme. Brenda and Sue got Elaine a birthday cake with purple icing, a purple shirt, purple socks, purple fingernail polish and other purple gifts. There was pizza, party plates, and singing. 

Elaine was over the moon. 

“The only time I remember a birthday was when I was 11,” she says. “I turned 11 on April 11 and I got a pair of earrings.” 

“This all was so exciting! They had everything on the table. I saw a purple bag and I saw flowers and I was excited and just very, very happy. I felt like I did when I was 11. It was my 11th birthday party all over again. 

“They are great people. They have helped me get off the street and they are just a blessing.” 

Words to live by:  

Brenda says, “Honestly the reason I did it is because I knew it would make her happy. I try to think in terms of what if. What if we had this birthday party? What would that mean for her? I hoped it would be very special to her. 

“I want to support this family, too, and I believe you have to build relationships with people in order to help them move forward sometimes. I want to show them there are people who care and have their best interests at heart. 

“The WellSpan values, to me, are how I want to live my life – finding a better way, the teamwork, the caring behaviors and gestures. The bottom line is I do care. I care a lot!”