SPRINGFIELD — “Everything comes back full circle,” said Richard Johnson, site manager at MHA’s New Way residence in Chicopee, which provides support to people with acquired brain injuries. “Back when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, MHA was the recipient of greatly needed supplies donated by the community. It made a world of difference for our residents and the people who care for them. Now, instead of paying it back, we’re paying it forward, and John Moriarty has volunteered to help.”
On Oct. 1, Moriarty joined other community volunteers to assemble ‘COVID care packages’ containing personal-care items that can still be hard to find, especially for seniors. Then, on Oct. 3, he volunteered again to distribute the 250 care packages, one for each resident of Independence House and Costello House, two senior-living residences on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield.
“John is really excited about paying it forward,” Johnson said. “He recently moved into his New Way residence and remembers being independent and living on his own. This project is an opportunity for him to rebuild skills he’ll need to live independently again, which is his goal. He really believes that the more you help, the more you heal.”
Each of MHA’s New Way residences is a specially designed home for four people who require specialized care but do not need to be restricted to a nursing home. Individualized New Way programming supports each resident in reclaiming abilities, developing skills, preparing for employment, and re-engaging with family, friends, and community. Living in the community instead of the institutional setting of a nursing home helps New Way residents live their best life by supporting them in achieving goals such as greater independence through skill building, community integration through social skills and natural supports, self-esteem and emotional regulation through leisure activities, and health and wellness through a whole-person approach.
Johnson, in addition to serving as a New Way site manager, is also president of a community organization called Chess Angels Promotions, which is spearheading the care-packages project. Chess Angels was established in 2019 to promote critical thinking by teaching members of the community useful skills such as financial literacy, communication, and self-empowerment through art.
“Volunteering for projects like the COVID care packages is a perfect fit for John,” Johnson explained. “At New Way, we’re working with John on writing things down as a daily routine, like for his medication, workout, and laundry. We guide and supervise him, and he’s making steady improvements. Working to help members of the community is something John feels strongly about, and assembling and distributing the COVID care packages helps so many people in so many ways.”
To find out what personal-care items were most needed and wanted, Chess Angels Promotions conducted a survey of residents at Independence House and Costello House. Survey responses indicated they wanted hand sanitizer, masks, toilet tissue, and handheld magnifying glasses. MHA ordered the masks and magnifying glasses, and the other items were provided by local elected officials. Springfield City Councilor Tracye Whitfield donated hand sanitizer, and state Sen. Bud Williams donated toilet tissue. Moriarty and other volunteers then assembled and distributed the care packages.
“The project is a way for MHA to acknowledge how much we have been helped and to pay it forward to folks who will benefit from some community spirit,” Moriarty said. “If someone does something nice for you, pay it forward and spread that positive energy in the community. Remember, everything comes back full circle.”