Interview with Board Chair of CPO, Karen Baratta
In January 2022, Jenn Albanese interviewed Karen Baratta, Board Chair of CPO and longtime volunteer about her time volunteering with CPO.
Jenn: How did you first get involved with CPO?
Karen: I was teaching Cognitive Skills at Pondville, and then at SMCC. The Director of Treatment was developing a Nonviolent Communications program and asked me to teach. I discovered that CPO offered training in nonviolent communications. Part of the training included participating in an NVC class at MCI Concord. I was asked to join CPO’s Advisory Council, and then a couple years later the Board Chair position was vacant and I was nominated. In my first year I was paired with Lanny Kutikoff – he was an experienced Vice Chair. I learned a lot from how he did things.
Jenn: What is the most memorable moment or accomplishment of your volunteer experience?
Karen: More than once, when copying papers at NECC, students would approach me to talk about class. These were students who were reluctant to talk in class, but individually they had so much to offer. I had met hundreds of students at this point, and I was struck by those students, who had been quiet in class, but who could give examples of how they used what they learned. Once, in a Concord coffee shop, I started coughing in line, and someone working behind the counter leaned out and said, “Are you OK Karen?” It was amazing to see a student outside the walls, in such an ordinary situation, and who was doing well
Jenn: What would you tell a prospective volunteer about being a CPO volunteer?
Karen: You will feel so appreciated. Sometimes what is most appreciated is just that you keep showing up. Remember that you are teaching adults, so be respectful. Making an Impact Open yourself up to what you will learn from them. Teaching in a prison classroom is an opportunity for shared learning. You are helping them build confidence in ways you do not even realize.
Jenn: What would you want other people to know about incarcerated students?
Karen: They are adults who have had significant life experiences. There are so many dimensions to these students, beyond the reasons they were incarcerated. Benefits of the class are multidimensional, so make room for that. It’s not just the curriculum or the homework. There’s so much more.
Jenn: Has volunteering impacted your life?
Karen: It has helped me to build different skill sets and to learn more about board work. Public speaking was initially what I wanted more experience with. I grew in that area from meeting a lot of different people and hearing their stories. Volunteering provided the opportunity to co-train with new volunteers and to model cooperation in front of a class. I have learned to be mindful of the space volunteering takes in my life and of carving out that spac