COTY Center Welcomes New Director
New COTY director Caitlin McConnell, left, speaks with Sister Eunice Tassone and board President Melissa Torres at a welcoming event recently. Top: Founder Tassone chats with McConnell, who participated in many of COTY's programs as a child.
Longtime leader and founding director Sister Eunice Tassone, a Sister of St. Joseph, is assuming a newly created position as director of development for the organization, better known as simply COTY, to help McConnell and the Berkshire community make the change.
"Sister Eunice is known in the community and has been the face and voice of COTY for 25 years, but Caitlin grew up here going to the COTY Center and knows the programs," said Melissa Torres, a board member and coordinator of COTY's summer program, Kids Upward Bound Academy. "[Caitlin] brings her experience working in other parts of the county and a new vision that is exciting to us."
McConnell did indeed grow up through the COTY program, beginning as a youth attending the drop-in center and participating in programs including the Young Life (a high school Christian youth program centered on faith-building), World Youth Day in Italy and taking her first trip at 16 to Haiti (to help natives there build a sustainable community) with COTY and Tassone.
After leaving North Adams to attend Simmons College, she continued her COTY connection by taking her second trip to Haiti and working during her freshman and sophomore summers at the COTY center in the first two years of Kids Upward Bound Academy (KUB), an experiential learning program for children in Grades 2 through 6 who are not achieving at grade level.
After completing her undergraduate studies with a bachelor of arts in 2005, McConnell entered the work force first at the Brookline Animal Hospital, then as an AmeriCorps VISTA worker in Prescott, Ariz. She kept in touch with Sister Eunice and followed the COTY Center's activities through friends and family.
COTY was an important influence in her life, McConnell said. "COTY provided me with real-life experience. The travel especially opened up my eyes and inspired me to learn more and more. My COTY experience did so much in shaping me into who I am."
McConnell gained valuable work experience in her role as a youth empowerment program director in Arizona where she helped implement a community-service learning curriculum for middle and high school students; opened a new teen center including overseeing its staffing, programming and securing the funding through grant writing; and ran a nine-week summer program for children ages 4 to 9. While crediting her former boss in Arizona with teaching her the ropes and giving her experience in programming and nonprofit management, McConnell said, "being in charge of those three programs helped to give me the confidence that I could direct a program and raise the money to do so."
She was offered a full-time job in Arizona, but after interviewing for the COTY position at the encouragement of Tassone and friends and family in North Adams, McConnell choose to take the job back home.
"My heart is here and I felt I needed to come back. After all, if Sister Eunice and the COTY board felt I was qualified for the position, that was a real compliment and I felt I had to do it." she said. "When I left North Adams, I thought that the one thing that might bring me back would be returning to the COTY Center and here it was in my lap."
As part of the COTY interview team that chose McConnell, board President Angela Park said she "has a passion for helping youth to develop socially and community-wise. Her work experience helped her to gain a perspective that we found invaluable. Her personality is also very appealing for the position - she is optimistic, can be commanding, but friendly and cordial at the same time."
As the director of development, Tassone will continue raising funds for the center's operation, overseeing the Haiti Plunge and helping in the transition. The change will be hard, she said, but added she feels it is in the best interest of the COTY Center. Making it easier is the fact that McConnell intimately knows the programs.
Tassone said she realizes that COTY will be in the hands of McConnell and the board members, 30 percent of whom not only grew up in the center but helped to create many of its programs while they were there.
Tassone began the center in 1984, after a teen named Sue Davis challenged her about giving Catholic youth a place to hang out. Through the past 25 years, Tassone has nurtured and supported the center as it has grown and expanded to meet the needs of the children of the Berkshires.
McConnell and Edward Horsfall, a member of COTY's staff and board, in the computer room at the center in St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall. Youth won't see any immediate changes from switch in leadership.
While it may take awhile to get used to the new face, Tassone said it will happen.
"Caitlin is her own person, she is confident, she is independent and resourceful, and creates her own style, she will brings a fresh vision of where she would like to take the COTY Center, and I can pass the buck," she said. Tassone.
McConnell said she's well aware of the legacy of the woman she's replacing: "I have huge shoes to try to fill, but she had almost 26 years to do so, and if I have the time and years to do so, I can hopefully grow into the shoes."
Tassone is quick to state that though COTY is in transition, "the only thing that has changed is that there is a new executive director." For area youth, COTY will seem much the sam. They can still attend the center weekdays from 2:30 to 5 to hang out and play basketball, pool and other activities or to participate mentoring programs and workshops in photography and cultures.
The COTY Youth Center Inc. is housed in the St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish Center, (formerly St. Anthony's) on St. Anthony Drive and North Holden Street.