When Dan Mastroianni walks down the hall at Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Scotia, faces light up.
“Dan the man!” calls activities director Barbara Bradt when he comes into view, and the white-haired ladies sitting nearby beam.
“He makes a lot of people here smile; they look forward to him,” Bradt said. “He just brings a lot of joy to them, and when he's not here, they look for him.”
Mastroianni is there a good portion of the time. The 35-year-old, who lives in Niskayuna, shows up like clockwork Monday through Friday, for five hours each day.
He was born with Down syndrome, but that hasn't kept him from achieving extraordinary things. Last year, he logged 950 volunteer hours at Baptist, a feat that has earned him the center's 2013 Volunteer of the Year award.
Mastroianni and all of the center's volunteers will be honored at a brunch April 27.
In the pleasantly warm laundry room at Baptist, where linens spin in silver washers and colorful plastic Easter eggs hang from the ceiling, Mastroianni folds blue-and-white hospital gowns with care and obvious pride.
“This is actually the best job I've ever had,” he said, his smile extending to his kind blue eyes. “I like the people. The people are great. They always make me laugh and they tell a lot of good jokes.”
On Wednesday morning, he spent some time trading laughs with residents Pauline Hildreth, 93, and Gloria Jones, 82.
“Dan and I have in common our relatives. We often talk about them — good, of course!” Hildreth said with a chuckle. “We go back to our memories, especially Uncle Joe at the beach. He forgot his bathing suit. [It was a] beautiful day, he just took off his pants and ...” She finished her sentence with a hand gesture that suggested Uncle Joe jumped into the water.
“You remember that, right, Dan?” Hildreth asked with a grin. Mastroianni smiled broadly and nodded in agreement.
“We always look forward to seeing Danny,” Jones said. “He's very much of a sweetheart and he's got beautiful eyes and a beautiful smile.”
Mastroianni spends a portion of his time at Baptist delivering mail and also stocks the drink cooler in the gift shop.
“He also likes to shop in the gift shop,” noted Lou Carol Comley, Baptist's volunteer coordinator. “He's got a stuffed animal on hold.”
“I'm going to be a godfather,” Mastroianni explained, his bright smile making yet another appearance. “It's [for] my cousin's baby.”
When he's not busy working at the center, Mastroianni swims with Special Olympics and is a spokesman for the organization.
“I go around and make speeches, get donations, and it's fun,” he said.
On Saturdays, he bowls with his house mates, and he also likes to golf.
But when Monday rolls around again, he's back at Baptist, eager to work.
“He's got a heart of gold and he walks through this place and all the residents, they just light up. He takes the time to talk to them, and a lot of people are too busy to do that. He's got a genuine big heart,” Comley said. “He came in on Valentine's Day with little boxes of chocolate for people.”
Mastroianni said he's excited to be honored at the upcoming brunch.
All who donate their time to the center will be honored that day, but the three who put in the most hours last year will receive special recognition. Mastroianni's at the top of the list, followed by Connie Remsheid of Scotia, who put in 890 hours, and Cathy Trobitt of Niskayuna, who spent 777 hours volunteering.
The center is always looking for volunteers to help out on any day of the week, Comley noted. Opportunities, which are extensive and varied, include visiting residents, working in the gift shop and entertaining residents with special programs and activities.
For more information about volunteering, call Lou Carol Comley at 370-4700, extension 146, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.