Coordinator of The Center, Asbury HIV/AIDS group, honored for her work

February 7, 2012

Colleen Volpe Image ThumbnailFREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The Monmouth County Human Relations Commission honored Colleen Volpe, the volunteer coordinator for The Center in Asbury Park, with the second annual Earl T. Teasley Humanitarian Award.

Linda Zuccaro, a commission member, said the group chose Volpe because “she exemplifies grass-roots humanitarianism” by volunteering for a nonprofit group that cares for people living with HIV and AIDS.

“She labors in the vineyards for good things to happen to many people,” Zuccaro said, offering a Biblical reference to describe a woman who was motivated in the early 1990s to serve others after hearing a clergywoman speak at her church about the AIDS epidemic.

Volpe, 74, of Ocean Township, still was working, handling staff developing and training for the county's Division of Social Services, when she became involved with The Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by her parish priest at St. Anselm's Catholic Church in Tinton Falls, thhe Rev. Bob Kaeding. Volpe has served on the board of directors since its inception.

Carolyn Schwebel, another board member, compared Volpe to Teasley, the late commission chairman, saying they both had “a humble concern for other people.”

Teasley, of Toms River, was a popular guidance counselor and assistant professor at Brookdale Community College who provided a “safe place” for gay and lesbian students on campus and other young adults struggling to find their way. He died of pneumonia in April 2010 at age 43. His mother, Myrtle Miller, and sister, Melissa Teasley, both of Philadelphia, attended the ceremony.

In her acceptance speech, Volpe invited the public to visit Center House, which provides supportive housing to 25 infected men, and The Center, a day program that offers hot meals, groceries, toiletries and, perhaps just as important, a place for 50 to 60 clients to socialize every weekday afternoon.

Volpe trains, schedules and oversees about 75 volunteers who perform a host of tasks, including greeting the clients, cooking and serving hot lunches and transporting donated food. She said there are many other ways people can help out, including cooking meals at home that can be frozen and given to the clients to eat at night or on the weekends.

“I encourage people with young children to use this as a teaching tool,” she said. “You are cooking for a guest who is not at the table but is just as hungry.”

Kaeding said Volpe fills a role that traditionally is held by a full-time staff member. She puts in about 30 hours per week. “Volunteers are vital to the mission of The Center,” which strives to treat every person with dignity and respect, he said.

“Colleen has created a space in which volunteers feel they are doing something worthwhile,” Kaeding added. “I'm so glad you chose Colleen for this award.”

“For me, I have the strength to do this because I know where my next meal is coming from and I have a roof over my head,” Volpe said after the ceremony. “God gave me the strength to see if I can’t reach out to help others do the same.”

Freeholder John P. Curley, liaison to the county's human services department, challenged those in the audience to follow her lead.

“One of the finest homilies I ever heard ended with, ‘Help your fellow human being survive,’ ” Curley said. “This is what Earl did. This is what Colleen Volpe is doing, and each of us must strive to do every day.”

Nina Rizzo: 732-308-7758;