Not all heroes wear capes, but as far as George is concerned, they all wear masks. George was one of the heroes of Countryside Center in 2020, overcoming adversity, adapting to change and leading by example as his friends and colleagues experienced a year unlike any other.

 When Little City suspended day services programming in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, George’s routine was disrupted like never before. After attending Countryside daily for more than 25 years, he struggled with the idea of being isolated from his friends and the staff he grew used to spending time with each day.

Jennifer Kulpa, director of case management at Countryside, has worked with George for 18 years and said George’s steady presence and positive outlook wavered during the sudden change of not being able to attend Countryside.

“In my 18 years of working with him I had never seen or heard him cry even one time, but he did when he could no longer come to Countryside,” Jennifer said. “He had a hard time at first. I called him weekly to reassure him we would open again and he would be able to come back.” The idea of COVID also made George anxious as he was too scared to open doors or windows at first for fear of the virus. It was another major change to his routine as he would normally take daily jogs around his neighborhood. 

But Jennifer knew that George, who has become leader at Countryside, would be the key to its successfully reopening. And George was the hero they needed. When Countryside opened again September, George was one of the first people to walk through the doors as an initial group of roughly 15 people returned to in-person services. 

He immediately set the tone for a safe re-opening that has since grown to see roughly 40 people attend daily. Jennifer said he is an example for staff and participants alike when it comes to safety. He has reminded staff — including Jennifer herself — to make sure their mask doesn’t fall below their nose. He washes his hands frequently from fingertips to elbows and most importantly, she said, he has adapted to a new daily routine that includes day programming like art classes and exercise instead of the contract work he is used to. 

As one of the top earners at Countryside, George’s favorite activity was always the work itself. But with the work still paused because of COVID, George immediately took to the new day programming schedule and that in turn helped others adjust to a new routine and feel comfortable.

 “He is the model,” Jennifer said. “He helps everyone, he leads by example and he makes sure everyone is staying safe and following health guidelines. He’s definitely helped make re-opening Countryside a success.”

 George said he is eager for the time when community outings will once again be possible as he enjoys the volunteer work (and the special trips to Oberweis,) but in the meantime he is happy to help his friends and be back at Countryside no matter what other changes may await in 2021.