At the Friendship Centers, hundreds of dedicated volunteers make it possible for us to improve the life and health of seniors every day. During National Volunteer Appreciation Month, every April, we celebrate their contributions to our mission. These three volunteers – from Venice, Sarasota and Newtown – represent those who stay active and find “peace of mind” serving others.
Trudy coordinates three classes every week at the Venice Friendship Center. She has led Hand & Foot Canasta, Single Deck Progressive Pinochle and Double Deck Progressive Pinochle for the last 10 years. She sets up the tables, collects donations and goes over the rules with new members. Most players are familiar with the card games, but some have played other versions.
A vibrant 87-year-old, Trudy attributes her longevity – or at least her good health – to her involvement with the Friendship Centers.
“I think if I had stayed up north, I wouldn’t have been able to stay active this long. I’m from a family of nine and none stayed as active or lived as long as I have.”
A 27-year resident of Venice, she lives with one of her children, a daughter with many medical problems. “We look out for each other.” Trudy looks forward to her volunteer work at the Friendship Center, where “everyone has such a good attitude.”
“One admirable thing I see is people coming in on walkers and canes, and once the music starts, they are out there dancing.”
When Bob moved to Sarasota from Punta Gorda, he was looking to volunteer with the elderly and signed up at the Friendship Centers’ adult day care service for those with Alzheimer’s or other memory impairment. He had plenty of experience: His father died of Alzheimer’s and Bob later served on the board of an adult day center in New Jersey. At The Caregiving Place, Bob, 69, works with a high-functioning group of clients on crossword puzzles and word quizzes, activities designed to stimulate their brains. He helps serve lunch, too.
“The bad part about this job is you get attached to people, and one day you show up and they aren’t around anymore. They ‘graduated’ to assisted living.”
The most valuable aspect of The Caregiving Place, according to Bob, is the respite care the service provides for caregivers, giving them time to take care of themselves without feeling guilty. Caregiver support groups are also available through the Friendship Centers. Bob says his mother wore herself out taking care of his father at home after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She felt too guilty to place him in assisted living.
“Neighbors found both of my parents passed out on the floor with pneumonia,” says Bob. He and his brother, who both lived out of state,flew in and took charge, sending his father to an assisted living facility right after his release from the hospital.
After Mary retired as a certified nurse’s aide, she took only three months o before signing up in 2001 to volunteer at the Friendship Centers’ site in her Sarasota neighborhood, Newtown.
Since then, she has been busy four days a week, visiting needy seniors in their homes and working at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, a facility that replaced the Robert L. Taylor Rec Center in 2011. The Friendship Centers offers seniors lunch, a balance movement class, caregiver support and more.
“The walls were coming in,” says Mary, 77. “I had to find something to do.”
Each morning, the seniors gather to crochet, knit, quilt, or just chat with old friends. Mary loves working with her hands, so she organizes lots of craft projects for the ladies. On a recent morning, Mary and another visitor were cutting up squares of cloth and using a screwdriver to attach the squares to a straw wreath. They also make lap robes for people confined to wheelchairs.
“I hate to see people sitting and not doing anything, so I’ll suggest they do something like make these wreaths,” Mary says.
Lunch always draws a crowd. Mary and others help the community engagement coordinator, Angelia Singleton, distribute the meal. What does the Friendship Center site mean to Newtown residents?
“It’s wonderful,” says Mary. “They would be bored to death. This is really something good.”
Mary mans the Center site from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Three days a week, she goes straight to her other Friendship Center job, brightening the life of an isolated senior through the Friendship at Home program.
One of the people Mary visits is a 99-year-old woman who has had both hips and knees replaced.
“It’s tiring but I enjoy it,” Mary says of her volunteer work. “I go home and have peace of mind.”