Standing in the community room of the Treehouse Community, 68-year-old Rosa Young recalled the moment in 2006 that she decided the neighborhood was the place for her.
"I was living in northern Michigan, and I heard a story on NPR about Treehouse, and it was exactly what I had been looking for," she said. "I hopped in my car with my dog, my coffeemaker and some blankets and started driving to Easthampton."
Six years later, Young is a pillar of the Treehouse Community, which aims to provide families with foster or adopted children with a supportive, stable environment - including seniors who volunteer as surrogate grandparents - to raise their children in.
Her efforts volunteering in the community, doing everything from babysitting to taking care of her neighbors if they get ill, earned her regional recognition this month.
Young won the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award from the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. Of the 16 recipients, she was one of 10 "second prize" winners that earned $10,000 for the organization they volunteer for.
Young did not know that Treehouse founder and Executive Director Judy Cockerton, with the support of the board of directors, had nominated her for the honor. But when she found out, in addition to being thrilled that the Treehouse Foundation would be getting a check for $10,000, she was overjoyed that she was going to meet Patriots owner Robert Kraft and quarterback Tom Brady at an awards ceremony at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on June 13.
"I love the Patriots. I was so excited, I felt like a little kid," she said. "Everyone else who won went up dutifully to take pictures with them, and I was just thrilled."
On Thursday, the Patriots Charitable Foundation and the Treehouse Community threw Young a party in Easthampton, where former Patriots fullback Patrick Pass presented her with a giant check for the Treehouse Foundation. Young took him on a tour around the community, explaining the idea behind it and introducing him to the young Patriots fans who live there.
Treehouse board President Sue Alexander said Young puts in many hours volunteering as the treasurer of the board, keeping the books and helping to plan fundraisers.
But her most significant contribution there is volunteering to help out her neighbors, Alexander said.
"She does everything from helping kids with their homework to providing a respite weekend," she said, referring to the practice of giving foster families little breaks from each other, such as a weekend staying at a friend's house.
She spends a lot of her time helping out a family with five children. Young said she picks them up from school, helps with homework and drives the girls to Girl Scouts. "I love them and I just help out when they need an extra pair of hands," she said.
"She just gives to everyone 24/7," fellow resident Gail Reddin said. "In fact, we have to have talks about her not overextending herself, because she wants to do it all."
When Young chose to come to Treehouse Community, she had retired from her career in the mental health field and was traveling the country in an RV, looking for her next calling.
"I thought, this is what I've been looking for," she said. "It was an opportunity to contribute to something meaningful, and I was so excited to be working with children. It's been so rewarding and enriching to really get to know them."