New director of health services, Kathy Cooper RN


Kathy Cooper (center) with newly appointed co-heads of Peace House, Marie Anderson and Sara Pilco

Kathy Cooper calls her title at L’Arche Boston North, director of health services, “very lofty.” She said, “I just want to be in the houses. I love it.”

As an LPN and then as an RN, the nurse everyone called “Coop” served 43 years (1972–2015) with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) before retiring last year. Or so she thought.

“It was hard to leave DDS,” she reflected. “I missed it and wasn’t sure what to do with myself. Then Swanna called and asked if I wanted coffee, told me they were thinking of hiring someone, and wondered if I’d be interested.”

Community leader Swanna Champlin knew that Cooper was familiar with the core members of L’Arche Boston North and had a positive relationship with community, having led many trainings with assistants and consulted on some acute cases. She told Swanna that she wanted something to “fill me up emotionally.” She had made promises to help care for her grandchildren but if a schedule could be worked out, she might jump at the chance.

It was worked out and she did jump.

Together with LPN Joan Henry, Kathy is in the process of setting up a monthly routine, including regular visits to each of the four houses of L’Arche Boston North and “being as available as I can be by phone, text, and e-mail when I’m not directly in the homes.” Of course, many things about health care are not routine, like the three surgeries for core members since Cooper was hired in September.

What Kathy loves about L’Arche, she says, is “the sense of community, the respect that core members are given, and the respect that assistants, staff, house managers have for one another.” There is, Cooper says, “a different focus at L’Arche,” which she calls “unique with its spiritual side and the way people are embraced.

“Philip went to meet Jean Vanier!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I was so touched by that—the commitment it took for staff to accompany him to France for that period of time. That’s amazing to me.”

Part of the joy of Cooper’s new job is catching up with old friends, like Doris and Woody at Peace House. “It was wonderful to see Doris and Woody again,” she said. “I had grown close to them via DDS, knew them when they lived independently, and saw that they could have used more help. They are doing better at L’Arche, where they are well supported and are happy. Doris literally ran across the room to give me a hug when she saw me!”

Cooper also cites the satisfaction of working with program coordinator Jen Matthews, who serves as the L’Arche interface with DDS. “Jen,” she says, “is amazing. She is on top of everything, pays great attention to detail, communicates really well with people, has endless enthusiastic energy. I am so grateful for her because DDS is a state agency, and there’s a whole different approach and attitude there.”

At L’Arche, she is now director of health services. At home, she is Memé, French Canadian for grandma. In these roles, taken together, Kathy “Coop” Cooper, RN, finds fulfillment. She is a wonderful addition to our community.