Featuring: Marsy Shattuck, Resident Services Program Coordinator, Knollwood Life Plan Community
As a child, you may have read Eloise, the well-loved children’s book which chronicles the adventures of its eponymous heroine. Eloise is a precocious six-year-old girl who lives on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York. She spends her days ordering room service, checking up on hotel staff and guests, and exploring every nook and cranny of the grandiose chateau-style building. For Eloise, and those she touches, “Getting bored is not allowed.”
Like Eloise, six-year-old Marsy Shattuck spent her weekends exploring the nooks and crannies of Knollwood’s gracious buildings and picturesque grounds, and befriending all her grandmother’s and father’s caregivers, and other residents. And like Eloise, for Marsy and those she touches—getting bored is not allowed.
Marsy is part of the Wellness Group at Knollwood Life Plan Community, an Activities team that engages residents in the performing arts, museum trips, and visual arts classes. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Marsy first worked at Discovery as a web designer. As a volunteer at Knollwood, “Her talents as a trained artist and master of digital technology proved invaluable!” exclaimed one resident. More importantly, “She has a way of empowering people to feel good about themselves.”
As part of a three-generation West Point Family, Marcy was never far from Knollwood, and she has a special love for it. Activities wasn’t a path she considered originally, but she “saw how these angels enriched her father’s life and realized how fulfilling it could be.” So Knollwood created a role for Marsy, and she returned to her adopted home.
“Coming in as an Activities person after the collective trauma of COVID, the residents were as happy to see me as I was to see them,” said Marsy. She had an art and design background, but no teaching experience, so she assisted the team. After teaching her first class and a series of workshops, she found herself challenging her own internal story of what she could and couldn’t do. Her passion for teaching came through, and she is now “having the time of her life.”
Like Eloise, Marsy loves learning about people who aren’t boring—and showing them how boring they’re not! “Someone who is 80-90 years old has a very solid story about what they can and can’t do,” she explains. So, she challenges them and herself through her work.
Marsy had an idea she thought would support people who didn’t think of themselves as artists – residents who would even “apologize for their participation!” She designed a collaborative piece! She took watercolor paper, cut it into shapes, taped the pieces together and drew a spiral on them. She then untaped them so they were individual pieces with one portion of the spiral on each. “When residents came in, I handed them a piece of paper which had one or two lines that were part of the spiral, and then told them, ‘I’m going to play music, and for the duration of the song, I want you to decorate your piece of paper. Or stare at it or do nothing. And when the song is done, pass your paper to the right, and you will get a new one from your left. You should continue to work on whatever marks your neighbor has just created.’ One by one, the pieces were filled up, and at the end, we taped them all back together with marks from everyone. It’s easy to criticize your own mark, but hard to criticize your friends’ mark, so I had these beautiful interactions with residents who said, ‘I didn’t really like what I did, but when I stand back and look at it with everyone’s marks, its not half-bad.’ So, people who could never take ownership and joy over their own creations, could take the joy and ownership of the larger piece, which was greater than the sum of its parts. Worked better than I had hoped as a way to break through these very old stories.”
“When I have the residents in my heart, it’s almost like a magical force field that protects me and protects my work,” explains Marsy. “There’s a freedom to create and move forward without the rules and barriers. Everyone is winning in this scenario. Because when you see someone do something they thought they could never do, it’s kind of like a magical moment to watch them think ‘hmmm what else can I do.’ So that has been the most unexpectedly rewarding part of this for me.”
Marsy Shattuck recently received the Ceca Award for helping organize the Knollwood Art Show. She encouraged residents to show their work even if they had never exhibited. “She has a way of empowering others to feel good about themselves,” explained one resident in her nomination text. “Marsy has adopted us, and we have adopted her.” Another resident noted that, “Marsy works tirelessly to invent creative and interesting art projects to stimulate and entertain the residents.” And yet another commented that “her ideas and support have been so helpful; I’d like to put her in my pocket.”
Marsy was thrilled when she learned she earned the Ceca Award. She knew it existed but didn’t know it was from a separate foundation. “I thought it was just a Knollwood program but eyes outside of Knollwood are on us! I cried at the ceremony and have replayed what I said many times. I only wish I could have thanked the residents, and Janey and Kathy, but stumbled over my words. I was so touched that the residents nominated me. What they appreciate about what I do here is exactly what I’m trying to do. Validation is a beautiful thing.”
Another tidbit Marsy shared, “Friday the 19th, the day I received the award, happened to be the 22nd anniversary of my mother’s passing. So, what is usually a tough day for me, was a magical day with all my friends at Knollwood. Mom and dad and grandma are getting a big kick out of this. To think of all the coincidences that had to happen for me to get the Ceca Award on that day is kind of mind boggling.”