Reliance House in Norwich renames shelter after late employee

Norwich - Reliance House last week renamed its Penobscot Street shelter "Nancy's House" in honor of employee Nancy Darnell, who died a year ago in a car crash.

Darnell, 54, had worked at Reliance House for 25 years with responsibilities ranging from providing support to individuals experiencing mental illness to coordinating homeless outreach and housing services, agency officials said.

Her family and friends were invited to a dedication ceremony Wednesday at the shelter. Reliance House supervisor Mike Van Vlaenderen said it was difficult to find a fitting tribute to the woman who was "so full of life, love and modesty."

"She lived her work, and it was clear that the only thing that came before that was her family," Reliance House Chief Executive Officer David Burnett said.

Her brother, John Oates, said the family's Quaker roots had a strong impact on Darnell and the family.

"She wasn't always looking for the spotlight," Oates said. "It was something our mom and dad taught us. Do what you gotta do, but you don't have to be at the forefront and brag about what you're doing. Just be doing something."

Two identical plaques and painted lighthouse pictures were created in Darnell's honor for the dedication.

A plaque and a framed picture will go into two different homeless shelter apartments. Former co-worker David Videll, who had heard of Darnell's passing and wanted to contribute to her memory, handcrafted a birdhouse that will also be hung in the backyard of the shelter.

- Claire Bessette

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