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Step Inside, You’ll Find a Good Friend

September 24, 2018

"It's the old adage, make new friends," said Tewksbury Senior Center volunteer Cheryle Laffey, at the reception desk Thursday. SUN / JULIA MALAKIE

This is the latest in The Sun’s “Be a Volunteer” series.

TEWKSBURY -- Cheryle Laffey has been manning the front desk of the Tewksbury Senior Center for over a year. These days you can find her at the desk on Thursday afternoons.

As people stroll in, they are greeted by her lively presence. Between answering phone calls and offering help to those having trouble checking in, Laffey is cracking jokes with some of the regulars.

“I really enjoy the people, I really do,” Laffey said. “You build a rapport with them.”

Whether she knows you by face or name, Laffey easily pointed out who was at the center for what classes, whether they just come for lunch and socializing and who she has inside jokes with.

For example, one man walks past the front desk complaining about the woman at the front doors with no manners. She never seems to say hello. Laffey told him she will talk to her about her manners. She laughs about it later, because the woman he is talking about is a headless mannequin. It’s their ongoing joke.

One man stops by the center for the first time, just a phone call comes in Thursday afternoon. Laffey quickly takes the call.

“Good afternoon, Senior Center. How may I help you?” Laffey said. Whether it is helping someone who lost something, or informing callers about the center’s activities, Laffey handles it.

She hangs up the phone and without missing a beat, Laffey gives the senior center newcomer a tour.

Laffey had already been coming to the center for years participating in a quilting group. Although she said she was nervous to begin in the volunteer role, she could not turn it down when she was asked. Laffey said Janice Conole, the center’s volunteer coordinator, is extremely dedicated.

“She’s the jack of all trades,” Laffey said of Conole. “Because she’s so accommodating to everybody, you just accommodate her back.”

Conole said Laffey is one of about 150 volunteers who help keep the center running. Conole said her outgoing and welcoming personality is ideal for the front desk.

“The department has grown so much in the last six years, and as the only secretary, it’s so important to have help with the work,” Conole said.

Knowing that Laffey’s is one of the first faces to greet people who visit the senior center, bring Conole a sense of comfort, “because I know people are happy to come through the door to see Cheryle.”

Nicole Hutcheon, the center’s director, said Laffey takes a lot of initiative to help beyond the front desk, even on days she does not typically volunteer.

“Cheryle is just an awesome person to have here,” Hutcheon said. “There’s no request too big or too small we can ask of her. If we’re in a pinch, we always know we can call her any day of the week. For us, having someone like that is huge.”

And without a doubt, at the end of each of her volunteer shifts, Laffey leaves a number of forms from those registering to become members of the senior center.

When asked why she continues to volunteer, the answer for Laffey is simple: the people.

“For the most part, everyone has a story,” Laffey said. “They’re so friendly and sometimes they just need someone to joke back with them. And I’m a people person. I like people.”

While Laffey is distracted by conversation, one senior center goer slides her a Hershey kiss wrapped in purple foil. Moments later when she sees it on the desk, she smiles.

“It’s the old adage, make new friends,” Laffey said. “Everybody has a talent for something and volunteering is a wonderful way to meet new people. It’s just a way of giving back.”

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.

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