How a Pittsfield woman's cancer battle is helping scores across Berkshires

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PITTSFIELD — The story of how an 87-year-old man helped his disabled wife live at home by carrying her up a flight of stairs was enough to motivate Howard Kent to want to help others who struggle with mobility problems.

"When you hear that, how can you say no?" Kent asked.

This week, the Pittsfield nonprofit Good Options for Independence Inc. is recharging its community support, with a boost from Kent, in its second full year helping people with mobility problems improve their independence and quality of life.

Before she learned of that aging husband's struggle, through the work of Good Options for Independence, Maria C. Caccaviello had her own awakening.

A fight against spinal cancer two years ago left her unable to get around as she once did. While she underwent treatment and rehab for six months in a nursing home, Caccaviello discovered how difficult it is for people with new mobility limits to return to their old lives.

Caccaviello was still a patient at Berkshire Medical Center when she used her community organizing and social work skills to help people overcome obstacles because of disability or age, first one, then another, all for free.

Even before the nonprofit took shape, the cause that became Good Options for Independence provided a rolling walker for someone unable to afford it.

"What I found out is that people fall through the cracks," Caccaviello said in an interview at her Pittsfield home, as work crews continued renovations driven by the difficulty she now has walking.

"I was home for 24 hours and ran over my mother with a wheelchair," she said. "I promised myself that I would do something."

"It's not right that people are affected by catastrophic illness or age changes and (do) not have good options available to them," Caccaviello said.

Even with social service agencies at the ready, she discovered a gap between what programs offered and what people's health insurance covered. That became the nonprofit's sweet spot. In its 2018 filing with the Massachusetts secretary of state, Good Options declared its mission: "To improve the accessibility to resources to promote an individual's participation within the community."

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On the group's website, Caccaviello puts the goal this way: "Our rules are simple: if you have a need that isn't being met by others, we may be able to help."

To date, Good Options has guided 35 clients in use a state program that loans up to $50,000 for home modifications, with that investment then attached as a lien on the property that is not paid until the address changes hands.

Applicants for the program, run by the state Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, are eligible even with yearly incomes of up to $223,000, Caccaviello said. The loan program was created by the Legislature to help people remain in the homes and communities and is run by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, according to the CEDAC website.

Good Options helps people navigate that loan program, advising on paperwork, contracts, bids and costs. "Each project is a custom design, specific to the needs of the client," Caccaviello said. She herself used the program to modify living space in her home on Wealthy Avenue.

Another 65 clients have gotten help with smaller needs at home, such as a chairlift. The nonprofit receives referrals from doctors' offices and hospitals.

Jessica Dellaghelfa of Adams, a board member and physical therapist, makes home visits to evaluate a potential client's needs. Sometimes, all that's needed is a different door knob, Caccaviello says. The nonprofit covers smaller costs for clients. No one is turned down, she said.

"Whatever it is that makes the house more accessible — and life more accessible," Caccaviello said. "Our money goes in and out very quickly."

Along with Caccaviello as president, the nonprofit is guided by officers and directors, according to a filing with the secretary of state. They are Bruce Goguen, clerk and treasurer and Caccaviello's partner; Dellaghelfa of Adams, vice president and director; and Anita Abraham of Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y., a director.

Kent, the Lenox man who will convene a second major fundraiser Thursday, said he was taken with Caccaviello's project when he learned of it — and stepped forward to support it financially.

"I like to help when I can," he said. "I think the cause surprised me when I found that with all the government programs around, there was a need for it. I'm amazed at what she's done."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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