When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, it was personal for Alizamari Diaz and Robert Laviolette, members of MHA’s Outreach Team. One of Alizamari’s closest friends died of COVID-19 after returning home from a family reunion in New York City. Robert’s older brother, a U.S. military veteran, contracted COVID-19 as a resident of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and died. Kim Barbero, who leads the Outreach Team for MHA, said “Alizamari and Robert had these deep personal losses and still were at work the next day, taking care of the people that they serve.”
Alizamari and Robert help staff the Outreach Team in MHA’s Integration and Community Living Division. They work closely with vulnerable adults who need help in their daily lives due to developmental or intellectual disabilities, often complicated by concerns with their mental health.
Here is what Alizamari and Robert told us about their careers:
How did you decide to pursue a career in human services?
“My passion since I was a kid has been to help people. Working in human services has been the best decision I have made. I worked side-by-side with people with disabilities for six years in retail. Every day they came in with big smiles in their faces and put in 100% to make sure their job was done. I tried working in residential and from there I knew I belonged in this field. The genuine “thank you” and “I appreciate you” replies just did it for me. I knew this was where I belong.”
“I originally took this as a part-time job, but discovered a real connection with this type of work. I was made to feel that I excelled at it, by my supervisors. I eventually left my full-time job, and made MHA my full-time job.”
How have you coped with the challenges of the pandemic?
‘It’s been hard to cope with this pandemic due to a lot of people thinking COVID-19 is fake because they haven’t had someone close to them pass from this. To not being able to be active like I am used to has been hard. I had to put a lot of things I love to do on pause. I love the gym, hiking and everything that has to do with nature. I try to always be safe in everything I do – not only for myself but also to keep everyone around me safe.”
“What am I going to do – sit at home and feel sad? Working is therapeutic in a way, and the folks I work with count on me. They became like family. I felt the best way to cope with the pandemic was to listen to my participants and answer their questions. By keeping them calm and informed, it helped me to remain calm.”
Is there someone in the field that you look up to? If so, what have you learned from them? (Question from Kayla Rose, Vinfen)
“I look up to MHA’s leaders, especially my program’s supervisors. Chelsea always is encouraging and has something positive to say. She always has the right words on my worst days to lift me up from whatever emotions I might have. Kim is a true angel sent from above! I truly look up to her as well — she is overflowing with compassion and is always making sure everyone is doing well. Carmen taught me everything I have to know to be a successful outreach worker, and I can’t thank her enough!”
“I actually look up to all the Outreach supervisors. However, I feel that I should also single out Kim Barbero. She always displays the ability to be fair, and to be a supervisor who can be strict, without being unkind.”
Thank you to Alizamari, Robert, and all the other tireless staff helping to provide services to clients and families throughout the pandemic. You are the Commonwealth’s human services heroes!
The Caring Force will be publishing additional workforce spotlights through the pandemic in an effort to raise the voices of workers on the front lines. If you know someone who inspires clients and embodies the spirit of The Caring Force, please nominate them by emailing Ravi Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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