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What is a Life Well Lived?

Several months ago, I read in the newspaper that one of our clients, Mrs. M., had passed away.  The loss of any of our clients is always a moment of mixed emotions for me. Of course, I am saddened because our world is just a little less bright because of the loss. On the one hand, I am proud that we at SCI have been given the opportunity to help people age successfully with the highest quality of life possible.    

But on this day there was another layer of emotion for me…a true sense of frustration. Mrs. M., whom I had treasured visiting when delivering her meals, had led a remarkable life of adventure, family, and achievement. Why was it only now, reading her obituary, that I learned these stories?  Why had she passed without my hearing from her about the lessons she had learned throughout her life, which was indeed so well lived?

At SCI, our vision is for everyone to have a life well lived. I am a little embarrassed to say that while I have always embraced this vision, it was the loss of Mrs. M. that truly brought this ideal to life to me and made me want to define what constitutes a life well lived. Is it the things we accomplish? The places we travel and the adventures we have? The mark we leave on our community? The number of lives we touch? 

Even after months of contemplation, I still don’t have a definitive answer. And maybe there isn’t just one. Each of us has different values and beliefs regarding what it means to have “a life well lived.” Therefore, being able to realize that vision successfully will be different for each of us. What I do know, however, is that regardless of what barometer we set for our own well-lived life, we can ensure our success by taking the time to learn about the lives of others, by celebrating them, and by gleaning lessons to incorporate into our own journey.

This is one of the reasons that SCI has created the “Legends, Leaders, and Life Well Lived” Award.  Our goal is to celebrate folks in our own community who can serve as examples for us all. We began by asking the public to nominate people who personified for them a “life well lived.” It was a simple nomination form – just tell us why you feel your nominee exemplifies this ideal. The response was overwhelming and, needless to say, the selection of our awardees for this year was an incredibly difficult task. 

I am so pleased to share that we will be celebrating Irene Johnson and Ed Wexler at the award luncheon on May 11. Without a doubt, both Mrs. Johnson and Colonel Wexler personify lives well lived. They have lives built around caring for and service to others, and both have tried — and succeeded — in making their parts of our world better places, and they continue to do so.

Mrs. Johnson worked in the classroom and as a social worker for more than 30 years helping those with developmental disabilities. She is the matriarch of a family whose members brim with love for her, and she is a person of grace with a huge smile and the family-given nickname of “Chuck E. Cheese.” Colonel Wexler is served in the Air Force and retired from the National Guard.  He continues to serve those who serve our country by leading efforts such as feeding homeless veterans and helping raise funds for organizations that support active and retired service men and women and their families. His belief in service to others emanates from him, and he has the quick smile that reveals the joy he finds in doing so.

I know that I speak for all of us at SCI when I say that we are honored to recognize both Mrs. Johnson and Colonel Wexler at the inaugural Legends, Leaders, and Life Well Lived Award Luncheon on Friday, May 11. Their journeys thus far contain myriad lessons to inspire us all. I thank you, Mrs. Johnson and Colonel Wexler, for allowing us to celebrate not only you and the ideal of a life well lived, but also to celebrate with you.

For more information about the Legends, Leaders, and Life Well Lived Award and Luncheon, call SCI at 912-236-0363 or visit our website: www.seniorcitizensinc.org

Why Meals on Wheels Matters

Maybe you are eating breakfast while reading this column. It’s just a normal part of your daily routine, starting with your coffee and choice of breakfast (muffin, cereal or maybe a decadent doughnut to start the day.) But did you know that next door, your older neighbor may have nothing in her refrigerator to choose for breakfast?

In Georgia, one out of every six adults over the age of 60 years does not know from where his next meal will come. We are the 7th-worst state in the nation when it comes to the number of seniors who are hungry. This is a “Top 10” list none of us can be proud to be on. 

NO ONE in our abundant nation should be going hungry…period. But it is a special challenge for those, such as older adults, who struggle with access to food. For many older adults, it may not be a monetary issue but a barrier of transportation and/or physical health that creates this perfect storm for hunger.

We all know the obvious: eating is essential for life and eating well is essential for good health. A healthy body needs less medication, can battle diseases easier, and functions longer. The benefits of eating also extend beyond the physical. Not being able to provide oneself with a basic, core need takes its toll emotionally. Studies by Brown University and the AARP Foundation showed that seniors who are struggling with food insecurity are more afraid, depressed, and anxious, resulting in both a significant diminishment in their quality of life and their physical well-being.

This is where Meals on Wheels/SAGE is a game-changer. For almost 60 years, Senior Citizens Inc. (SCI) has been delivering meals to the homes of older adults. In fact, we started providing home-delivered meals before there was a national program! Each day, SCI prepares and delivers 1,800 meals specifically designed for older adults throughout Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty counties. Our clients can receive 1-3 meals for their day – and because we all deserve the pleasure of being able to choose, our meal clients get choices regarding their menu options. But the real power is that it’s more than a meal; each visit also means a friendly smile, a moment to ensure that everything’s all right, and a vital connection to the outside world.  

Meals on Wheels is a program that has been proven in national studies to result in happier, healthier older adults and communities that are also happier and healthier. At SCI, we see this power every day. That’s why we take part in a national effort every March to spotlight the importance of Meals on Wheels and home-delivered meals. We kicked off our “March for Meals” with what has become a tradition. Mayor DeLoach joined our hundreds of volunteers by delivering meals on Tuesday, March 6. This show of support means a great deal to our team of volunteers and staff and demonstrates the ease and reward of being a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

On Thursday, March 8, you can be a part of the effort simply by eating (and drinking) at Spanky’s on the River, Dub’s Pub on River Street, Tubby’s Tank House in Thunderbolt, Fiddlers on the Southside, and Molly McGuire’s on Wilmington Island. Be sure to let your wait staff know you’re there to support Meals on Wheels, and a portion of your bill will be used to feed a home-bound senior. Think of it as buying a meal, giving a meal!

Our culminating event for March for Meals is the eighth annual Miles for Meals 5k walk/run on Saturday, March 24 at 8:00 a.m. We'll start and finish at SCI Headquarters on Bull Street and Washington Avenue (3025 Bull Street). This is a fun event suitable for everyone in the family, even your dog! (By the way, did you know that SCI also delivers pet food for our meal clients so they won’t share their meal?) For more information, call SCI at (912) 236-0363 or go to www.runsignup.com/scimilesformeals to sign up.

It all sounds fun (and it is) but March for Meals is really about trying to ensure that every older adult has the nutritional support that everyone needs. SCI is proud that we offer our meals to anyone regardless of income. If someone can pay for the service, then meals can usually begin the next day.  But I would be remiss not to mention the more than 300 people in our community who need our daily meals but neither they nor we have the resources to provide them.

So if you can’t join us for lunch on March 8 or our race on March 24, maybe you can help by volunteering your time to deliver meals or pet food, or perhaps by making a donation (only $7 will feed someone for the day). Or let our legislators in Atlanta and Washington D.C. know that you believe in the power of Meals on Wheels. Most importantly, if it’s your neighbor who needs our nutritional support, let us know so that we can help. After all, the fight to end senior hunger belongs to all of us. I hope you’ll join us!

Patti Lyons is the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years.  She serves on the Meals on Wheels America Board and is a Governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.

Making the Holidays Merry and Bright for Seniors

As President of Senior Citizens Inc., I am often asked for suggestions for making the holidays as enjoyable as possible for our older adults. The holidays are indeed a time of fun, family, and friendships but they can also be overwhelming with all of the activities, gift buying and traditions. As we get older or if health has become an issue, these long lists of “to dos” can be daunting. Here are some tips for keeping this the most wonderful time of the year regardless of age.

Tip 1: Decide what is really important. Take a few moments to separate what is essential to a meaningful holiday versus what is expected. Maybe it’s having the holiday dinner with family or exchanging gifts with your closest friends. Once you decide what is essential, you can then say “no” to other things if you start to feel overwhelmed. The key is to keep those traditions that bring the true moments of joy. 

And don’t be afraid to start new traditions or modify the old ones. Be creative! Instead of making cookies for everybody in the neighborhood, make one batch and invite the neighbors over for coffee and a few cookies. If the holidays usually involve dinner at your grandparents’ table, simplify the menu or have a pot luck versus imposing the entire meal preparation on your grandparents. I guarantee that the event will be just as full of meaning and joy.

Tip 2: Pay attention to your health. Keep your diet consistent and try to resist eating ALL of the goodies available. If you are taking medication, make sure to maintain normal dosages and times. Check your prescriptions  for any restrictions they may have such as alcohol consumption and food interactions. Keep to your regular schedule. If you usually go to bed at 10:00, try to make that your goal through the holidays. Try to add a little more physical activity during this season as well.

Learn to recognize the signs of fatigue in yourself and others. If you feel irritable, a little foggy mentally or just plain tired, REST! You don’t have to lie down (although who doesn’t love a good nap?) Just sit down for a few minutes or even better, go sit in the sun. A recent study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that a few minutes of direct sunlight rejuvenates our bodies better than a nap! And, lastly, try to graciously accept help when it is offered.

Tip 3: Acknowledge that things may have changed. If your or a loved one’s health has changed dramatically over the year and there are some limitations, talk to your family prior to the gathering and prepare them. This will reduce stress and embarrassment for everyone concerned and allow time to modify activities and expectations.

If the year has brought the loss of a loved one, as wonderful as the holidays are, they can also magnify one’s sense of loss. Every person deals with grief differently, so try to be sensitive to how you and others may be feeling. Many people find that it helps to acknowledge those who are gone by displaying a picture or donating to a cause in their loved one’s name. For some, it is important to carry on as usual but if it is too painful for you to follow your traditions, consider doing something different…a new tradition! Remember that it’s ok to scale back, but don’t “do nothing.” Being with others always helps with handling the expected ups and downs.

Final tip: Rethink the gift giving. As the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts! If funds are limited, make someone’s favorite dessert. Suggest a coffee date to mark the holiday, rather than a more expensive lunch or dinner. Remember Tip #1: Decide what is really important…usually, the size of a gift isn’t on that list.

If you are buying for an older adult, give practical gifts. Unless someone has expressed that they really want that Hummel figurine, stick to gifts that are useful. Offer to run errands, plan an outing to a favorite place, make heat-and-eat dinners for eating later, or arrange for Meals on Wheels to visit each day with lunch.

Or consider making a gift to someone who might not be sharing the holidays with families and friends. Our community has many excellent nonprofit organizations that can offer suggestions and even assist with delivery. This is the perfect gift for someone who “has everything” or for remembering a loved one. Best of all, it’s a great way to ensure that everyone’s holiday will be merry and bright!

Companions and More

We all know that there is a fine line between being alone and being lonely. Loneliness can become an unwelcome companion far too easily for older adults in our society. Whether it’s for physical or cognitive reasons, older adults tend to stay inside, and this isolation adversely affects all four of the columns of a successful life: mind, body, spirit, and community.

Enter a pet…that companion who is always happy to see you (perhaps not effusively, as some cat owners will attest), who depends on you, and who, for the most part, is a joy to have around. Pets are among the few elements that can shore up every column of life, at any stage of life, and they can play an even more powerful role as we get older.

According to a recent poll by the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel, 90% of seniors say they are less lonely and much happier since adopting an animal. Pets create structure in the homes in which they live.  For older adults, this structure can provide routines for exercise and socialization that might not otherwise exist. After all, you might not want to get out of bed, but your pet needs you to!

A recent study cited in McCall’s Magazine found that older people who own pets visit the doctor 16% less often than those without pets. Pets have been proven to increase the mental alertness of people with dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease, and significantly increase the survival rate during the first year after discharge from the hospital.

Pet owners, according to a study at Baker Medical Research Institute, have lower blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels than do non-owners. In addition, all that petting, cuddling, and unconditional love significantly reduces stress levels. “If this was a drug, it would be marketed tomorrow,” said Dr. Roger Lavelle in reference to the study.

Pets are also the best ego booster in the world…they think you are the greatest! Pets fill the desire to be useful, offering the very satisfying duty of taking care of another living thing.  At the end of the day, having a pet means that you have made a promise to be involved in another life. This commitment, while being one of the most positive decisions you can make, comes with responsibility. 

Animals come with their own sets of requirements, so it’s important to choose wisely.  Different breeds of dogs and cats tend to have specific characteristics and needs, so it’s critical to be realistic in determining the type of pet you want and the type you can handle, which are not always the same thing.

What is your temperament? If you need things to be neat or if unpredictability is difficult for you to handle, then a puppy or large animal may not be a good fit. Do you want to cuddle, or would you prefer an animal that is less “needy”?  For the non-cuddler, a bird or fish may be the best option.

What is your physical condition? Most dogs need to be walked A LOT. While cats can live indoors all of the time, their litter box needs to be changed regularly, an activity which requires bending over. Do you have the stamina to train a puppy or kitten?

What are your living conditions?  A big animal requires a big space. If you are living in a facility, you need to confirm the agreements regarding ownership of animals. Some places, including apartments, have a size limitation on pets, don’t allow animals with fur, and/or require an additional fee or deposit for pets.

Are finances an issue? Pets cost money. Not only is there food and possibly litter, but things like medications, toys, and grooming add to the costs. According to the ASPCA, not counting an injury or illness, a puppy can cost more than $810 during its first year, while a fish only costs around $235 to get set up in an aquarium. 

Is the pet the right age? A young pet may outlive its owner. Birds especially have long life spans. Yet it’s also important that the pet isn’t too old, since it may start to have physical limitations and require more vet visits which could be a problem if finances or transportation is an issue.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to find the type of companionship that is the best fit. There are many options, and the Humane Society might be a good place to start. They can provide a pet for a lower cost than a breeder. Additionally, shelter employees often know an animal’s personality and can help make the best match. Many shelters also have pets besides dogs and cats that can range from birds to snakes to rabbits.

If you aren’t ready for the commitment of a pet or if there are some limiting cognitive or physical issues, you might consider a robotic pet such as Hasbro’s new line of companion pets, Joy for All. While you probably won’t confuse the companion pets for real animals, they provide a good substitute and have proven especially effective for folks with dementia.

At Senior Citizens Inc. we know the therapeutic power that pets can provide with their unconditional companionship. A few years ago, we began a pet food program for our Meals on Wheels clients so that both our clients and their beloved pets can remain healthy. Thanks to donations of pet food and grants, we’ve now begun to provide flea and preventive medications as well

 The Hasbro Joy for All pets are a big hit at our Byck Adult Daytime Care Center, where clients who previously struggled to communicate are now smiling and talking to their “pet.” And if you’ve visited SCI in the past few years, you’ve met Petunia, our fluffy ambassador of cat love.  She has quite the fan base among people stopping by just to visit her. She sits in on Learning Center classes, loves to attend meetings, and has a knack for knowing when someone needs pet petting therapy. 

While all of these praises of pets may sound like a tall order for a small bundle of fur to fill, I promise you they are up to the challenge. And if you need further proof or if it’s just an occasional fix for pet companionship you need, Petunia stands ready for your visit!

Weathering the Storm

I grew up in Tornado Alley where as a child we practiced crouching under our desks at school or running to an interior bathroom as our only means of preparation in the path of danger. Thirty years later, I moved to beautiful Coastal Georgia where hurricanes are nature’s weapon. While tornados are unpredictable and rapid to form and strike, hurricanes give plenty of time to take action.  And while that is a plus on the side of hurricanes, they also have an offsetting negative - unlike the “Russian Roulette” nature of tornados, hurricanes leave no one unaffected in their wake and last a lot longer.

So, with it being “that time of year” and Matthew still a fresh memory, I thought this might be a good time to share some things I have learned, particularly for those of us moving into “the next chapter.” As with most things, good preparation makes a huge difference.  It may take a little time, but preparation pays off during an emergency.

First, make a plan for evacuation. Don’t plan to “ride it out” in your home, particularly if you are alone or frail. (Hello…Matthew!) Know for sure how you are going to leave the area. If you require transportation and medical assistance during an evacuation and have no other resources such as family, friends, neighbors, or church members to help, you may qualify for the Functional, Access, and Medical Needs Registry. Call your county’s health department to learn more about the registry. In Chatham County, the number is 912-691-7443. You must apply before a storm threatens our area!

Once you have your transportation settled, along with deciding which keepsakes to take, I recommend you prepare three “kits.”

Emergency Medical kit: 
· 2-6 day supply of current medications
· Insulated bag to carry any medication (such as insulin) that needs to stay chilled (Tip: keep an ice bag in the freezer at all times so you can grab it and go.)
· Medical equipment you use, such as hearing aide batteries, a blood pressure cuff
· Your Yellow Dot packet. You can get your packet from Senior Citizens Inc. (912-236-0363). If you don’t have one, put the following in a large plastic, waterproof bag:
     An up-to-date list of your medications and the dosages
     Copy of your medical records. You can get this from your doctor and it should include a list of your medical issues and how they are being treated.
     Copy of your medical insurance cards

Important Information kit:
· Copy of your home/car insurance policies
· Phone number of your insurance broker
· Copy of your identification cards/passport
· Copy of your credit cards
· Phone numbers of family and friends

Road Trip kit:
· Bag of travel-size toiletries
· Cash – at least $50, if possible, in small bills
· Toilet paper – at least 1-2 rolls (trust me on this!)
· Extra set of clothes, from underwear to coat and an extra pair of shoes
· Deck of cards, good book
· Water
· Snacks, such as soft fruit bars, shelf-stable food
· Cell phone charger
· Manual can opener
· Wine opener (a necessity in my book!
· Basic First Aid kit
· Pocket knife
· Blanket and Pillow to make a more comfortable car ride and be a little touch of home wherever you land.

When it’s time to evacuate, here are a few tips for the road:
· Call your family and friends before leaving and let them know your plans.
· Grab your Kits (medical, important Info, road)
· Make frequent stops on the road. Everyone needs to stretch but it is particularly important for circulation reasons that you not sit too long. At the very least, you don’t want to end up at your final destination achy, stiff and with swollen ankles!
· Use the restroom at each stop.  As Mom said, you never know when the next clean one will come your way.
· Drink water. Water is preferable to sodas, coffee, or my previously mentioned favorite, wine. Dehydration is a serious issue but it is particularly damaging as we get older.

With any luck, we won’t be called upon to put our plans into action. But if we do, you’ll be glad that you took advantage of a hurricane’s one asset: the time to prepare. It’s a lot more effective (and easier) than trying to hide under your desk!         

For the past 17 years, Patti Lyons has been the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years. She serves on the Meals On Wheels America Board and is a Governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.

A House is Not a Home

I love my house. To me it's perfect - a yard that isn't too big to keep weeded, not too many bathrooms to clean, and a nice kitchen for my husband to cook for me. But what really makes it perfect is that it's home...that special place we each have and where we all want to live.

Home plays a strong role in every chapter of our lives...to 'leave home' is a rite of passage, we cherish our 'first place' and we long to buy our first home. It is a symbol of independence and becomes even more so as we age.

Home, whether it’s how to remain there or how to leave, is one of the topics I am most often asked about in my role at Senior Citizens Inc. (SCI). After all, our organization was built around helping people age successfully, and for many of us that means living at home. Let's talk first about staying at home.

There are many things you can do to your home to make it easier for you to age in place. These include installing grab bars, building ramps, and even the simple removal of rugs and the rearrangement of furniture. An Aging Care Specialist can come to your home and help identify ways to prepare your house for your next chapter.

In addition, there are many organizations in town, including SCI, that can provide support services in your home. These include meal delivery/preparation, housekeeping, shopping, assistance with grooming, etc. You can even get someone to coordinate it all for you. These services can be provided on a short-term basis, such as during the recovery from surgery, or in an open-ended relationship that lasts for years. One note of caution: use a trusted service provider rather than hiring someone directly. You want someone who has been thoroughly vetted and trained AND is covered by liability insurance.

Regardless of these changes and services in your home, there may come a time when it is best for you to leave your home. Too often, people see this as an ending and not the beginning of the next adventure. What's important to remember is, like the song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David says, “a house is not a home". You can find 'home' and remain independent (even with a little help) in a new place. 

I strongly recommend doing your fact-finding before there’s an emergency. A crisis situation doesn’t allow the time to look at all of your options and find the best place for you to live. So how do you begin?

The first thing to consider is what level of assistance you want and need. There is a wide range of options, so be realistic when considering not only your current but anticipated future needs. In the “aging world,” there are three main categories. A “residence” provides little or no formal assistance but often includes meals and activities. “Assisted living” gives more support, but the degree of that assistance can vary. A “nursing home” or “rehabilitation facility" provides the ultimate level of care including nursing and therapeutic support. There are many layers within these categories, and there are even facilities that offer all three areas for a continuum of care.

Once you ascertain your care needs, do your research. Do you have friends who have already made this transition? Ask them about their level of satisfaction and ask their advice. Visit potential places, preferably with a friend or relative (two sets of eyes are better than one!) Sit down and talk to the folks who live there. Stay for lunch. Some places will even let you spend the night! Ask questions, such as how much do added services like laundry cost? Can you access the transportation service to any location you want? Can you eat in your room if you like or invite a friend to dinner? After each tour, think about what you liked or didn't like about the facility. Did you like the colors? Was it cozy or did it feel cold to you? Was there a garden? With each visit, you are narrowing down what you really want in your new place.

When you've made your decision, solicit family and friends to help with the mechanics of moving and downsizing. If that's not an option, there are companies that may be able to help. At SCI, we call it 'rightsizing,' and services run from finding a mover to helping you sell things you don't need anymore.

Once you are in your new house, make it your own. Hang your pictures.  Invite your neighbors over for coffee. Take advantage of all the social activities and make new friends...find “your place.” After all, that's what really makes a home!

For the past 17 years, Patti Lyons has been the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years. She serves on the Meals On Wheels America Board and is a Governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.

 

Blue Sky Happiness

A few years ago I heard on the radio an interview with a 102-year-old woman. She said that there are some days when she wonders why she still wants be here, but then she looks up at a blue sky and says to herself, “Ah, that’s why!” For her, the blue sky is one of those little things that bring a burst of happiness to life. We all love the grand moments, such as weddings, once-in-a-lifetime vacations, the birth of a child, but in truth, it is those brief moments of “happy” that keep us going…that give every day its shine.

I think of this "blue sky” comment almost every day as I go about my life. Like all of us, I just want to be happy. I know that there are genuinely sad times in all of our lives and I am not saying we can “Pollyanna” those moments away, but hopefully, most of our lives are spent in the ordinary times. Those are the times when we can influence our own levels of happiness. 

First, the why: happiness is good for us. There are many of scientific studies that prove the health benefits of being happy. Just Google “happy” if you want the research, but basically, happiness is like a super pill - it improves our mind, body, and spirit in every way. It helps us recover from surgery faster, makes learning easier and a 2013 article in Psychology Today even links happiness to preventing dementia.

So how does one bring more happiness to life? It happens by simply looking for the small nuggets of wonder and joy that lie all around us everyday…the blue sky. Those nuggets are different for each of us - what brings on my happy may be different from what brings on yours, but I guarantee, if you look, you will find it. 

Best of all for those of us moving into the next chapter of life, being happy gets easier as we get older. According to a joint study by Tufts and Stanford Universities, even during a time when factors, such as mobility, health, and social isolation can make looking for our blue sky seem more difficult, older adults are more adapt at finding the happy moments in a situation. In addition, a 2011 Michigan State University study showed that simply reminiscing about things that make us happy to the point of smiling had the same health benefits as the original moment.  

Since hearing the radio interview with the 102-year-old, I started keeping a list of the small things that make me happy. I pull it out every once in a while and add new observationsIt’s almost like reading a diary in that I can tell what else was happening in my life by what was bringing me joy, and just reading it makes me happy.

Here are a few things on my list:

* Watching tomatoes turn red in my garden
* The first sip of coffee in the morning
* Homemade vanilla ice cream
* Seeing mature couples holding hands     
* The smell (and taste) of honeysuckle
* Getting a handwritten letter in the mail
* The sound of crickets on a summer evening
* Learning something new – particularly at The Learning Center
* The anticipation that rises when the lights start to dim at a movie theater
* Roaming through a book store
* Winning my bet with my Gator friend when Tennessee and Florida play football
* The blue of the Smoky Mountains
* Champagne
* Finishing a crossword puzzle
*  And, of course, a blue sky

As you can see, the list isn’t full of grand things but I’m smiling!  Start identifying your list now and while you don’t have to write it down, I encourage you to do so.   You can bring it out when life is cloudy to bring on your own blue sky.

Volunteering: what are you waiting for?

This past week, Rosalie Wilson, a 79-year-old dynamo and one of Senior Citizens’ incredible volunteers, won the Herschel V. Jenkins Volunteer of the Year award. This award is given out annually by United Way and HandsOn Savannah to recognize someone who personifies the spirit of volunteering. Rosalie holds three different volunteer “jobs” at SCI, ranging from  helping a home-bound older adult four days a week to delivering meals weekly and making telephone calls three days a week to remind other Meals on Wheels volunteers of their routes for the next day. 

Granted, Rosalie is truly special (hence the award!) but it got me thinking as I listened to her joyful talk at the event that while volunteering is, without a doubt, good for our society, it is also good for us as individuals. It is one of those rare activities that strengthen all four “columns” that support a successful life: Mind, Body, Spirit, and Community. 

Mind: There is no denying that volunteering your time will improve your mind. Rosalie says “it keeps her sharp,” and numerous medical studies, including a recent report from Brown University regarding Meals on Wheels, show that spending time with others makes dramatic improvements to our mental health. Plus, you can’t help learning something from the experience, whether it’s the history of someone’s life or the history of the world if you volunteer as a tutor.

Body: Just getting out of your house improves your body. (Imagine the impact on your muscles if you mowed the grass of your home-bound neighbor!) But one of the great things about volunteering is that there is an opportunity for you regardless of your physical situation. Even if you are the beneficiary of the above-mentioned lawn work, you can be a “friendly caller” to someone else or perhaps make cards to brighten the day of someone in the hospital.

Spirit: It is guaranteed that your spirit will be lifted by the giving of yourself. Everyone who volunteers will tell you that it’s hard to tell who benefits the most…the giver or the receiver. 

Community: Volunteering gives you a double whammy in this column of your life. Not only will you expand your personal community by seeing different areas of town, meeting new people, and trying new things, but it’s a given that you’ll improve the community as a whole with each experience.

Regardless of what chapter of your life you are currently in, volunteering is something that each of us can easily do.  No invitation or special equipment is needed…just you. 

There are many ways to find a volunteer experience that will be right for you. Several organizations, such as SCI and HandsOn Savannah, produce a monthly calendar to offer flexible, no-obligation volunteer opportunities. You can try things once or twice, and if they aren’t the best fit, you can try another project! In addition, many nonprofit organizations have volunteer coordinators who can work with you to help identify an opportunity that you’ll enjoy and that fits your schedule. What’s important is that you try, for merely the act of trying will have a positive impact on your “columns of life.”

Of course, all of us can’t be Rosalie, but we can follow her example. And while you may not receive the Herschel V. Jenkins award, she and others who volunteer will tell you that the true award comes in the form of the smiles they receive from those they have helped and the smiles they put in their heart. So with all of this satisfaction and happiness awaiting you in exchange for very little time and effort, the only question left is, “What are you waiting for?”