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Melissa, Johanna & Sara | Team Leader Spotlight

Co-Team Leaders, New York Cares

“I like that they are not afraid to be hands on. They are always so helpful, knowledgeable and nice to the residents. The residents love it when they come here. I haven’t been here for that long, but for the time that I have, they’ve been doing an amazing job!” - Liz, Art Therapist at Riverside Premier Rehab


Instead of recognizing just one outstanding Team Leader this August, we are opting for a three for one special and highlighting an exceptional trio of leaders.

Over the years, Melissa Cohen, Johanna Goldberg, and Sara Robinson have individually and collectively embodied the values of exemplary Team Leaders through their dedication to Thursday’s Art and Arias project at the Riverside Premier Rehab and Healing Center. Not only do these leaders work with diligence, but they develop real connections with the residents. While the project aims to help seniors spark their creativity, having Team Leaders who are as compassionate and caring as Sara, Melissa, and Johanna, makes the experience about more than just art. And best of all, the result is an environment that allows for volunteers and seniors to positively influence one another.

Sara illustrates this project outcome perfectly. “Whenever a volunteer comes back the next week because they want to continue their conversation with a resident, I feel great knowing a connection has been made in the lives of two people who may have thought they had nothing in common!”

While Sara has been volunteering with Art and Arias for the past 7 years, Melissa has previously Co-Team Led Bedtime Stories at Frederick Douglas Center, and Johanna has been a Team Leader for various other projects including an Urban Adventures program with PS 59 K. A few years back, the three decided to tackle the project together and began alternating weeks and leading together to divide and conquer project goals as Co-Team Leaders.

There is no question that Melissa, Johanna, and Sara have greatly impacted and contributed to the success of the Art and Arias program at the Riverside Premier Rehab and Healing Center. So this month (and on every Thursday) we’re sending triple the thanks, for all they’ve done to engage and inspire seniors and volunteers! 

Melissa Cohen

  • Volunteer since: 2011
  • Team Leader since: 2011
  • Hours Spent Volunteering: 651
  • Describe in one word what being a Team Leader means to you: Helpful.
What do you love most about leading Art and Arias at Riverside Premier Rehab? 

The residents. You really get to track their progress and develop personal relationships with them. It’s been a fantastic program. 

How has volunteering with New York Cares impacted you?

It has just made my life so much more fulfilling. You can see the good that you are doing for others and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

Johanna Goldberg

  • Volunteer since: 2005
  • Team Leader since: 2009
  • Hours Spent Volunteering: 1,011
  • Describe in one word what being a Team Leader means to you: Responsibility.
What inspires you to continue your work as a Team Leader? 

I work with two very different populations as a Team Leader: seniors and children. I don’t have much opportunity to interact meaningfully with the very young or the very old except through New York Cares. The relationships I’ve built with seniors at Riverside and the children at my Urban Adventures projects have changed my views of life in New York City, aging, and the challenges and joys of growing up. 

Share your favorite memory from a project.

There are so many! One week, a noted pianist in his late 90s took over Art and Arias in the best possible way: he asked for song requests from the room, then played and sang all the songs from memory, ending his set to write lyrics in honor of one of the volunteers. You never know what’s going to happen at nursing homes in NYC. One of my favorite Urban Adventures moments happened when we took a group of fifth graders to Governors Island. While climbing around a tree house, a gregarious boy shouted: “This is the most I’ve ever felt like a kid in my life!” I laughed, but found out later that he has a sibling with autism. New York Cares gave him the gift of a carefree day. 

Sara Robinson

  • Volunteer since: 2009
  • Team Leader since: 2011
  • Hours Spent Volunteering: 381
  • Describe in one word what being a Team Leader means to you: Connection.
Why did you become interested in Team Leading Art and Arias at Riverside Premier Rehab? 

This was the first program I ever did. I loved it from the beginning and chose it because both of my grandmothers back in Maryland love art and opera, and I felt like that would be a great way to honor them and do something for them without being close by them. It is such an amazing group of people, both volunteers and seniors are phenomenal. It’s such a nice evening. 

Share your favorite memory from a project.

One of our most frequent attendees to the program, Sam loved to sing- especially when the audience included ladies. He would walk us volunteers all the way out to the front door of the building at the end of every project, singing a classic love song. It was a really lovely way to end the evening. 

Interested in nominating a great leader like Melissa, Johanna, or Sara to be featured in a future Team Leader Spotlight? Submit your nomination here.