CooperRiis hires first volunteer program coordinator

Published 9:31 pm Sunday, July 31, 2016

The CooperRiis Healing Community has hired its first volunteer program coordinator, Kevin Riordan, a former resident who later became a volunteer.

Riordan’s goals include ongoing recruitment of volunteers to address emerging needs, keeping volunteer positions filled long-term and bolstering support for current volunteers.

Some of the emerging needs at CooperRiis currently include looking for new ways to support creativity and spirituality within the community, areas that can help spur the healing process for residents and that are often important to volunteers.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Riordan also hopes to strengthen relationships with volunteer placement agencies and with the local communities in Asheville and Polk County who can help provide CooperRiis with occasional, part-time volunteers.

“Residents often arrive here with low self-esteem, feeling isolated, alone, disconnected,” Riordan said. “The authentic relationships they build at CooperRiis

is where a lot of the healing takes place, and our volunteers are a key part of that experience.  The volunteers had a huge impact on me personally, and I’m grateful that I can now help support this important part of our community. In my view, our volunteers are truly some of our most important major donors.”

One highlight about the volunteer program at CooperRiis is the way it’s structured. Most volunteers, many of whom want a career in the mental health field, live at one of two CooperRiis campuses, where they provide service fulltime for six months to a year. They participate fully as staff members in the community, often eating, living, laughing and playing alongside residents throughout the day.

Volunteers will ask residents to go for walks, for instance, play games together, take pictures, play Frisbee golf or find other ways to connect. Some volunteers may be pursuing careers in photography, farming, fitness training, art, yoga and other professions, skills they can nurture while also sparking residents’ interests. Close bonds often develop between CooperRiis volunteers and residents, making the volunteers important resources for residents in acute distress.

In addition to the fulltime volunteers who live in CooperRiis housing, others live locally and volunteer in part-time roles. Some local volunteers may even come as occasionally as once a week or once a month to offer a special activity with residents.  There are also older full-time and part-time volunteers who have completed their careers and now want to share the richness of their life experiences.

All the volunteers have one thing in common: a deep desire to support people with mental health challenges or emotional distress, and to be a part of a unique healing community.

“We try to create an atmosphere where each individual, regardless of his or her role, feels free to be authentic and to contribute their talents, passions and presence to the community,” Riordan said. “Each volunteer brings a depth and richness of character that has a tremendously meaningful impact on individual residents in our program, and on the whole community.

Volunteering at CooperRiis is also a huge personal growth opportunity for the volunteers themselves. They often leave here saying they have more career and social skills, more skillful ways to support others in their lives, and more ways to take care of themselves.

To learn more about volunteering at CooperRiis, please email or contact Kevin directly at 828-817-7748 or

-Submitted by Peter Smolowitz