A longtime member of Nonotuck’s board of directors, Suzanne Warsaw is a big cheerleader for the organization and its model of caring for people with disabilities through shared living.
“If we've got this model, and it works, let's tell the world about it,” she said during a recent conversation, “and see how many people we can get on board with it.”
Warsaw said she has seen a lot of changes during her decades of service. She joined the board just a few years after current CEO George H. Fleischner took over in the late 1980s, but she was familiar with Nonotuck even before then. In the ‘80s, she worked for the state as a service coordinator for what is now the Department of Developmental Services. From that spot, Warsaw said she was able to watch as Fleischner took over Nonotuck, introduced shared living and started changing lives.
Warsaw said she was inspired to join the board by her confidence in Fleischner and her enthusiasm for shared living, but also because she had a connection to people in the disabled community through her work.
“I had had two or three years of relationship with all the folks,” she said. “And I had developed pretty strong ties with all of the parents of the children... I really want to continue working with them, and see where he could take it.”
Warsaw was also drawn to Nonotuck’s values. Her family had taught her to value love, honor dignity and respect and she was driven by the idea of making a difference. (Warsaw is pictured above with her sons, Lucas and Zachary.)
“I wanted to save the world,” she said. “That was the mission, but I wasn't quite sure what I was saving. But then raising my kids has really taught me what's valuable and what's not.”
Warsaw said Nonotuck’s commitment to the values of love and respect can be seen not just in the satisfaction of the people served and their families but also in the number of employees who stay with the organization until retirement.
Warsaw said she sees her own longevity as part of her contribution to the board.
“I think I bring a history to the board which is really important to me — to keep it humble, to remember to really sit there and remember where we started from,” she said. “And to ask questions about where do we really want to go?”
That means helping keep Nonotuck true to its mission.
“I do remember the historical perspective, and I can say, wait a minute, this is what we first set out to do,” she said. “And does this coincide with what we wanted to do and what we started out to do?”
Fleischner said Warsaw has had a significant impact on Nonotuck.
“It’s hard to fully articulate how much Suzanne has meant to me as the CEO or to Nonotuck as a not-for-profit organization,” he said. “She’s been loyal, committed, caring and a hard-nose advocate for the people we serve. If we get caught on some dusty road, Suzanne can be trusted to bring us back to the clarity of our mission. Suzanne has created a well-deserved legacy at Nonotuck. She is a great board member.”
Warsaw said she would like to see Nonotuck continue to grow — slowly, making sure it’s manageable. But she would also like to see the shared living model of care spread to other agencies.
“I think it's a model that needs to be shouted to the rooftop,” she said.
In addition to her work with Nonotuck, Warsaw continues to work to make a difference for people every day through her professional work. She is a staffing specialist at Harmon Personnel Services, which helps people — including those with barriers to employment — find jobs. But Nonotuck, she said, lives in her heart.
“If I could see everybody live by the principles of Nonotuck, I think we'd be a much better world.”
Learn how Nonotuck developed a love-based ideology of care. We started our shared living program as an alternative to group homes for people with disabilities. Instead, Shared Living creates genuine life transformation for people with disabilities, as well as families and communities. The true power of caregiving is found through hospitality, authenticity, and love.