‘Rock Star’ project finds hope in strangers

Taking a few minutes to connect helped two strangers cope with grief.

Patty Terstenyak noticed a friendly spark in Renee Natoli at a mutual friend’s party. This motivated her to approach Renee and start a conversation. But it wasn’t a spontaneous decision. Patty, who lives in Shaker Heights, has spent this year working toward a goal of connecting with 100 new people. She calls it “Rock Star of the Day” and shares each person’s story on social media (#RockStarOTD) if given permission.

Patty began this endeavor after losing her mother in the spring. She wanted to find a positive way to work through the grieving process.

“She taught me that even if the odds are stacked against you, and you don’t have a lot of money or time, you should do what makes you happy with what you have,” says Patty of her mother. “It’s hard losing a parent, so this project gave me hope in humanity, better mental health and something to look forward to.”

Thinking of one person during this year of Rock Stars that was particularly meaningful, Patty mentioned Renee. “I didn’t know what she does for a living, who she votes for or her political affiliation,” Patty says. “It’s so much beyond that. We connected at that heart-to-heart.”

While Patty originally talked with Renee about their spiritual faith and life as single moms, the Rock Star project became even more meaningful to Renee months after this original connection.

When Renee spoke about meeting Patty, she fought back tears. It wasn’t because of their first conversation. Renee was visiting her grandmother in hospice care. She is close to her grandmother, and knowing she won’t be around for long is a heavy knowledge to carry. In this moment, Renee found a renewed comfort from Patty’s positive approach to grief.

“Patty took her mother’s memory, her delight and joy, and kept that smile shining to pass on,” says Renee while sitting near her grandmother. “She inspires me to bring my grandma’s joy forward.”

Patty Terstenyak, left, and Renee Natoli

When speaking of Renee, Patty says, “We felt like it was the divine order in life and how people are connected, even if we don’t realize it.”

In October, Patty invited the Rock Stars she’d met since May to a party celebrating the completion of her goal. Around 50 people came to the event. Going with the theme, she gave each Rock Star an album from her mother’s music collection that was signed with their names and Rock Star status.

Patty’s hope is for others to take her idea and begin engaging in more conversations with strangers. “One of the biggest things I get emotional about is the faith and belief other people put in me,” Patty says. “It’s still hard for me to understand.”

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