SPRINGFIELD — Carol Stamatakis may be stepping down from her role as executive director of Senior Solutions but she plans to stay active in advocating on behalf of the same clientele she’s serving now.
“I’ve always been very much an advocate at heart,” she said. “And I wanted to dedicate as much time and effort to really advocating for older adults and advocating for systemic changes because I feel, in particular, the pandemic has really highlighted just so many of the shortcomings in our communities and just our ability to support and include older people.”
Society tends to deny aging and death, she said, therefore it denies people the ability to fully live.
Over the summer, Stamatakis attended a spiritual retreat, which highlighted for her a desire to be actively involved and engaged in changing that philosophy and advocating for older populations. She said she wants to use what she’s learned over the years to help make a difference and support “promising initiatives.”
Stamatakis has been director of Senior Solutions, also known as the Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont, for more than five years but has spent more than 20 years in the field of aging and disabilities. Previously, she was executive director at the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities. Prior to that, she was legal counsel for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services for programs for older adults. She also served as a state representative in New Hampshire for three terms.
Her last day with Senior Solutions is slated for May 1. Her successor, Mark Boutwell, started Monday, allowing some overlap for Stamatakis to offer advice and support.
Mark Boutwell, who for almost seven years has served as director of social services at Senio…
Stamatakis has already picked up some consultant work. While she lives in New Hampshire, she plans to stay active in aging issues in both Vermont and New Hampshire.
Having worked within the service systems in both states, Stamatakis believes there are ways in which they can be improved. She said in Vermont, far more resources are made available but the Green Mountain State also has its challenges.
“Vermont exerts enormous control over who can be a provider and New Hampshire has a much more free market for that,” she said, adding that more flexibility with regulatory barriers might better serve people.
Stamatakis expects to take on a combination of volunteer and paid work. She said she loves teaching, workshops and presentations “but I really have the strongest passion or calling for being an advocate.”
It’s her belief that older people should have more opportunities to be involved in deciding what the service system should look like. She wants to educate policymakers on issues related to aging.
“At this agency, I’ve just been ridiculously inspired by the older adult volunteers who I’ve met,” she said. “That’s been the most inspirational aspect of this work. People have really shown me what’s possible as I age and just for all ages.”
Stamatakis called her mother “a phenomenal role model for me.” She said her mother found a lot of meaning in being a teacher of adult literacy in her later years.
That inspired Stamatakis to be “extremely supportive” of expanding volunteer programs within Senior Solutions. The programs, she said, benefit the people being served and the volunteers themselves.
Stamatakis described being particularly proud of the Vet to Vet program, which started with the American Legion Post 5 in Brattleboro and connects military veterans who might be resistant to meeting with others.
“It’s just made such a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “It’s also inspired volunteers to get involved in the legion or in veteran issues.”
Stamatakis said volunteer programs have grown dramatically over the years and since the COVID-19 pandemic, more volunteers are joining the ranks. She commended Vicki Mastroianni, coordinator of the volunteer programs, and credited her for connecting with other organizations and helping other agencies grow their own programs.
Stamatakis also is proud of how outreach efforts have been expanded to include regular newspaper columns and a show on Brattleboro Community Television. When she first started at Senior Solutions, she recalled, complaints most often had to do with a lack of awareness of the agency and its programming. She commended Joann Erenhouse, community relations director, for her role in spreading the word.
Senior Solutions always played a leadership role in addressing elder abuse, Stamatakis said. She hopes that work conducted over three years with the aid of a grant in Windsor County — to create a model of entities that might be involved in elder neglect or financial exploration — might inform efforts in other parts of the state. The project included training law enforcement and community professionals on how to recognize signs of abuse and support victims.
After recent community meetings in Windham and Windsor counties, Senior Solutions staff identified transportation as a big challenge. They also recognized the need for collaboration among agencies and having the workforce necessary for providing services needed in the communities.
Asked what the biggest assets of Seniors Solutions are, Stamatakis listed its dedicated staff and partnerships in the communities. Together, she said, they create a safety net.
“It’s really part of of the web,” she said.
Stamatakis said her group played “an instrumental role” in developing many of the local Cares groups such as Dummerston Cares and Marlboro Cares. The groups are loose affiliations of grassroots organizations that help link people to resources to promote health, wellbeing and socialization.
“There’s a lot of strength in the local communities,” Stamatakis said. “I would say those strengths became very clear when COVID hit. It’s unbelievable just the mutual aid societies that immediately activated and even developed in some instances. They didn’t exist before. I wasn’t in Vermont when Tropical Storm Irene happened but I heard it was a similar experience. Maybe that experience is what made our region and Vermont so uniquely prepared.”
Stamatakis said her group highly values “person-centered planning,” or the idea that older adults have the right to make decisions and choose lifestyles that someone else might not want for them. A strategic plan adopted in 2017 says the agency should “honor and respect the life experience and autonomy of Vermont’s older adults.”
“I think, in a way, everything kind of springs from there,” Stamatakis said.
If she’s being “brutally honest” about what she’ll miss most, it’s being able to spot opportunities and take advantage of them to accomplish something beneficial. She said the position allowed her to turn ideas into reality, expand the number of funding sources and get the agency into some new focus areas. She still plans to be involved in some of the initiatives.
Stamatakis said she wishes Boutwell and the agency all the best.
“I feel very hopeful for the future for older adults in southeastern Vermont,” she added.