Hometown Heroes: Carrie Keeley builds community through holiday meals

  • Carrie Keeley, who works for the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services and for the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, is known for her welcoming attitude. She recently drove to New Jersey to assume care of an infant in need. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Carrie Keeley, who works for the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services and for the Crisis Center Of Central New Hampshire, is known for her welcoming attitude GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/13/2022 8:00:54 PM

Carrie Keeley believes family is who you choose to surround yourself with. So when she got a message in October that a distant relative was no longer able to care for her 9-month-old baby, Keeley did not hesitate. She picked up her 12-year-old daughter from after-school soccer and they drove through the night to New Jersey to collect the baby and return home to Pembroke, where Keeley was granted guardianship of the infant for a year.

Bringing in a new tiny mouth to feed wasn’t something Keeley, 47, and her partner had expected to be doing at this stage of life. Keeley, who has both a 12-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son, is a busy mom who works two jobs and is active with community volunteer work. But she says she has no regrets about taking on guardianship of the baby, who she called a “blessing in disguise.”

“She was just kind of integrated into the family,” Keeley said. “That’s just kind of how I roll. My door is always open. If you’ve been here more than twice you know where the refrigerator is. You’ve been here more than twice, now you’re family. So I didn’t think twice about it. Would I do it again? Absolutely.”

Keeley, who works for the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services and for the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, is known for her welcoming attitude. On holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, Keeley regularly opens her home for what she calls a “misfits meal,” inviting everyone and anyone who isn’t able to spend the day with their own families. She sends out mass Facebook invites, and also invites people she encounters in the community via word of mouth.

“It’s kind of nice not knowing who’s gonna show up or who’s gonna end up at your table,” Keeley said. “I made some nice connections that way.”

The practice began many years ago when Keeley, a single parent at the time, wanted an alternative to lonely holidays, both for herself and her son and for others she knew were in the same boat. Although she was struggling financially, she decided to start inviting people over to share a meal, socialize and enjoy each others’ company. Some years, only a few people show up. Other years she gets as many as 70 people over the course of the day.

“The whole ‘family is what you make it,’ kind of thing really kind of sticks with me,” Keeley said. “Because not everyone is fortunate enough to have resources or family support, or those kinds of things.”

Keeley has brought that mindset to her volunteer work over the years, including in Friends of Pembroke, the community group she started about four years ago. The group began as a way of helping and bringing joy to older adults in local nursing homes around the holidays, through donations of personal care items and small gifts.

Since then the group, which is based in an online Facebook Group, has grown to about 80 people, Keeley said. The group has also expanded to include other ways of helping in the community. When Keeley sees a post from someone seeking assistance in one of the local town Facebook groups, she shares the post to Friends of Pembroke and asks if anyone is available to help out. Among other things, the group has helped a local resident, who was the victim of a home robbery, acquire a new TV.

Over the years, Keeley has also volunteered at Old Home Days, at The Friendly Kitchen in Concord, and with Faith, Hope and Love.

“Carrie is constantly giving back to her community,” said Jessica Lefabvre, a friend who nominated Keeley to be a Hometown Hero. “Her kindness and selflessness are qualities that are rare, and incredibly inspiring.”

This winter Keeley has also been the recipient of community kindness in return, as folks have stepped up to help provide her family with necessary baby items.

“I just tried to teach my kids that even if you’re down on your luck or things seem hard, you’re not alone and that we don’t leave people alone,” Keeley said. “We try to be all-inclusive.”

A friend has started a GoFundMe to help Keeley’s family with the costs associated with a new baby. Visit gofund.me/c915aa9e to donate.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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