Staff Highlight: Valerie Koropatnik

Valerie Koropatnick’s bright blue eyes convey her passion for social work, a field she has been committed to for 40 years.  As the Director of Westview House, she oversees programming for adults with mental illness.  The house is just like many others in Burlington – old and creaky but cozy and inviting.  Pictures of members hang on the walls, and the mismatched furniture (all found or donated) suggests a relaxed environment.  She shares an office with UVM interns who always bring a “jolt” at the beginning of every semester.  Valerie’s own energy is apparent when she talks about Westview and the road she took to get there.

Growing up with her extended Ukrainian family in New Jersey, Valerie spent a fair amount of time in her grandmother’s tenement building in Newark.  The social and cultural dynamics of this urban landscape influenced her decision to study sociology in college.  Valerie received a full scholarship to obtain her Masters in Social Work from Rutgers.  She graduated during an era of deinstitutionalization in mental health, when social workers were tasked with how to best help patients transition back to society. 

Valerie recalls taking six recently released men on a field trip to the shore in Asbury Park, N.J. On the beach, Valerie quickly realized that some of the men were uncomfortable, having worn wool coats, and their medication was making them sensitive to the heat.  No one complained, but it was perhaps not the most fitting activity. Valerie laughs as she recounts the story, referencing her naiveté at the time.

Since its founding in 1982, activities at Westview have been adapted to meet the needs of its members. Like all households, they experience birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weddings, funerals, and baby showers, as well as an annual camping trip.

Today, Valerie is one of only two full-time staff members for the house. Drew Corcoran oversees Odd Jobs, a service that matches members to community employers.  Peer Leaders are responsible for cooking, chores, and organizing activities at Westview.  Valerie believes that empowering people with mental illness will increase community awareness and decrease societal stigma.

Valerie says that all members deserve a place to belong—a place to be needed, wanted, and expected.  She has built strong connections with the members of Westview through her 33-year tenure and says, “We’ve grown old together. It’s rare to have a career where you really get to know people for that length of time. It’s been a privilege and gift to witness people’s lives change for the better over the long term.”