Riverbrook volunteer Kathy Staropoli and Annie B.When volunteer Kathy Staropoli arrives at Riverbrook, Annie throws open the door before she can even ring the bell.

“I knew you would be coming, let’s go out for a vanilla decaf iced coffee!”

“How can I resist a proposal like that?!” Kathy says, and her enthusiasm is palpable.

Kathy came to Riverbrook after moving to the Berkshires in 2010 and ending her long career as a Special Education teacher. Although she was finished with the classroom, Kathy still wanted to feel connected to the population she had worked with for so long. She remembered meeting Riverbrook staff and residents at a craft fair at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens years before, where Riverbrook on Main was selling their handmade wares. It had struck her then that she would love to someday be involved with this organization, and now she had the opportunity.

“Riverbrook called to me,” Kathy says. “So I made an appointment to come for a visit. I loved the space, the vibe and the ladies as if I had always been a part of this.”

Volunteers coordinator Ruth Hanley pairs volunteers and residents she feels will enjoy each other’s company, and Kathy and Annie seemed like a perfect fit. “With her friendly, outgoing and gentle personality, I felt Kathy would be a great match for Annie. I introduced them to each other and the rest is history!”

As they were getting to know each other, Kathy and Annie would do craft and baking projects or play board games. “We made Kale chips for snack and baked Christmas cookies for family members and packed them up in pretty boxes. On chilly nights we played Candyland, Memory, and Uncle Wiggly on the floor in the living room with 2 or 3 of Annie’s friends,” Kathy says.

But as time went by and Annie became more comfortable with Kathy, she began to prefer to go out with her for coffee and a nice chat. They do a monthly girls’ night out for manicures and dinner. Once a year Kathy and Annie throw a cookout at Kathy’s home in Sheffield, inviting Annie’s Riverbrook friends and making a big summer salad together with veggies from Kathy’s garden.

Over the years that Kathy has been volunteering, other residents have come to know and love her, and Kathy is always greeted enthusiastically when she arrives. “I love the chance meetings with them out in community,” Kathy says, “where I can always be assured of big hugs and lots of “what are you doing here?”

Having meaningful, fulfilling friendships within the community is an important part of Riverbrook’s model of care, and has a big impact on everyone involved. “Volunteer time with Kathy is the highlight of Annie’s week,” says Ruth. “To see them together is to know that a volunteer’s time and love are priceless.”

“Having been involved in the field of meeting the needs of people with special needs for most of my career, I must say that Riverbrook is a place that has gotten it right,” says Kathy. “The feeling in the house is one of total respect for each other, kindness, understanding as well as boundaries. The staff is amazing. Riverbrook is truly a family and I am thrilled to be a part of it all.”

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