PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE

The holiday season brightens our lives. Christmas lights adorn trees and our community, glowing candles in a Hanukkah menorah brighten our homes, and the seven candles in a kinara (candle holder) celebrate Kwanzaa: African heritage, unity, and culture.

Senior Friendship Centers illuminates seniors’ lives yearly. Whether it’s entertainment, dining, or activities and cards, attendees experience a brightness that embodies an improved quality of life.

Volunteers—paramount to helping Center clientele enjoy the journey of aging—also experience this brightness.

Lorraine Francis, who volunteers at the Bistro, the Centers’ Venice café, says, “I’m happy to be at the Center as much as possible. Along with volunteering, I dance several days a week and play bridge on Mondays. I love Senior Friendship Centers and get much more out of it than I give.”

Typical of the Centers’ dedicated volunteers, Lorraine shuns the spotlight. “I don’t know whether I make a difference, but I try to make everyone feel welcomed. I share my stories and hope I make people feel a bit happier.”

Besides the Bistro, Lorraine covers the front desk when needed and volunteers for special events.

JoAnn Potzler, another Venice volunteer, helps support the fiscal department, scanning documents, keeping files in order, and anything else. She says, “Whatever I can do to free the staff so they can accomplish their important work, I’m there. Plus, it’s most rewarding giving back to the community.”

At the Sarasota Bistro, Becky Rives volunteers while seniors enjoy taking a break from the live music and dancing. “I keep the coffee pots refreshed, make hot dogs, and serve cold drinks. Most important, I dispense smiles, chat with regulars, and welcome newcomers.”

For Becky, “the Bistro is my Happy Place! I’ve made friends with fascinating, delightful people. I collect snippets of their lives, share laughs and occasional sad times, and treasure the smiles and hugs.”

In Sarasota Jeffrey Frank, a licensed clinical social worker, facilitates a Loss & Grief Group for LGBTQ seniors. “My goal is to provide a safe, supportive setting where members can connect with one another and share their common struggles.”

His weekly experiences bring him to both tears and laughter. “It’s such an honor to be entrusted to provide this experience. I’m grateful to each individual who chooses to share themselves.”

What’s missing when talking about illuminating lives is music. And the Senior Friendship Centers sparkle—outdoing any holiday lights—brightening clients’ experiences in the Sarasota Living Room.

Borrowing from Jimmy Durante, pianist/vocalist Betty Comora says, “‘Ya gotta start off each day with a song.’ It’s so rewarding to play singalongs on the piano while my friend Jackie Tholotowsky joins me on banjo in the Living Room. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she continues to delight the folks with her upbeat personality. The smiling faces in the audience is priceless.”

This season—awash with lights—pales when highlighting the Friendship Centers volunteers.

To see more of the Senior Friendship Centers’ “lights,” visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/friendshipcenters/