Cordaro takes the helm of One Sky Community Services
In the throes of this pandemic, it’s easy to lose track of days as they tumble one into the next. But March 23 stands out distinctly to Matthew Cordaro.
Sandwiched between Gov. Chris Sununu’s declaration of emergency and his stay-at-home orders, it was the first day on the job for the new CEO of One Sky Community Services.
“When the opportunity came up for One Sky, I jumped at it,” Cordaro said.
One Sky is a nonprofit agency serving northern Rockingham County. Its mission is to ensure individuals with developmental disabilities or acquired brain disorders have the same opportunities to be successful and live a happy and fulfilling life.
While working to set the agency’s future may have topped Cordaro’s priorities coming into the position, the pandemic has rewritten his well-intentioned plans, or at least dropped them onto a later timetable. Cordaro’s first day as CEO was a hornet’s nest blend of standard orientation and COVID crisis response.
“With all this going on, our individuals still have needs,” Cordaro said. “And it’s tough because there are some individuals who still have memories of institutionalization and now they’re being asked to quarantine at home, when they’ve had years of being in the community. Staff are finding that those individuals are having to relive past trauma as they’re self-quarantining and having to isolate. And staff have to work through that trauma with them and meet their needs.”
That work can involve translating the behavior and demeanor of an individual who cannot articulate their symptoms or identify a cause of pain and discomfort. It requires hyper-vigilant staff who are not only checking temperatures multiple times a day, but also taking note of any change in personality or physical condition.
“The other thing is, are they living alone?” Cordaro said. “Are we doing check-ins with them; are they self-isolating and following quarantine procedures? A lot of our individuals are in the community with jobs, and now they’re furloughed. So that isolation is exacerbated. And then there’s the whole issue of whether their support network is able to reach them. And in a lot cases, the answer is no.”
The challenge in reaching individuals forced One Sky to adapt on the fly, including using video conferencing and other alternative communications to reach people. It also has involved making sure front-line workers have necessary, personal supports to ensure the well-being and safety of the individuals they serve.
That’s why Cordaro and other agency administrators across the state have been in constant communication. Running down a list of people, from agency officers and state administrators to New Hampshire’s congressional delegation and the governor’s office, Cordaro has been struck by the welcome and support he has received.
“They’ve all reached out,” he said. “They’re finding the time to connect with us to make sure that we have everything we need. And if we don’t, then they’re connecting us to the resources that we need.”
The crisis has put into play Cordaro’s past experiences as a volunteer EMT in Dunstable, Massachusetts, and as a 24-year-old entering the behavioral health field by starting his own behavior analysis agency in Florida. When his fast-growing business was bought out, Cordaro accepted a position with the new company. At least one aspect of that experience is something Cordaro would like to recreate at One Sky.
“We had a very strong community of support for our families,” he recalls. “When we would bring in a new family, we had a way for them to connect with our other families so that they could lean on someone who was similarly situated.
“They are amazing advocates and my goal is to get 100% participation from all our families. Even if they don’t want to actually participate, I want them to know the service is available to them. That advocacy is available to them. Our families are the ones that need to have the power to say if services are not good or that they’re not getting what they need.”
Cordaro, 37, has been in New Hampshire for several years since he and his wife of 10 years, Jennifer, moved back to New England to raise their family. From consulting in the state to leading an innovative mental health program in Boston, Cordaro comes to One Sky, which is headquartered in Portsmouth, after overseeing shelter and foster care services for Beckett Family of Services in N.H.
Cordaro points to the complexities of the support system as a reason why it may be difficult to pin down exactly what One Sky provides. Some version of negotiating a web of laws and regulations by working through myriad processes that involve both the state and the federal governments is difficult to fit onto a business card. Cordaro wants to simplify that: “I want families to know they can call me and ask me anything they want to ask me. I just want people to have good services and be happy. That’s all.”
In the meantime, there are other items higher on the agenda, and it has required a system-wide effort. Whether tracking down PPE for front-line workers, arranging for an urgently needed test or creating shelter for homeless individuals with disabilities who need to quarantine, New Hampshire’s developmental services system has been running on coffee and adrenaline, 24/7, for weeks now.
“We are constantly communicating and we’re responding as a cohesive team and a system and not as individual agencies,” Cordaro said. “If someone doesn’t have the resources, we’re able to flex from one agency to another. It’s definitely a learning curve, but it’s a learning curve that we’ve been able to meet because of the coordinated response. And the response has been pretty amazing. Watching people band together has been kind of the silver lining to this entire experience. Even though it’s the worst of times, it’s been the best of humanity.”
Credits to Seacoast Media Group & One Sky Services