Suzanne Beecher is somewhat of a celebrity in Sarasota. Some people call this 67-year old grandmother “The Bubble Lady of South Orange Avenue.” If you Google “Bubble Lady of Sarasota” or drive by her home near Selby Gardens on any given morning, you’ll understand how she got her nickname – as you drive through a sea of bubbles.
Suzanne was looking for a way to contribute to her community when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. She wanted to help people who felt isolated, and thought that by volunteering, she might feel less isolated as well. Because she has a rare eye disorder that makes it difficult for her eyes to stay open for long periods of time, especially in the presence of light, she needed to find a volunteer job that she could do from home indoors, on her own schedule.
Suzanne was perusing Prime Times and saw that Senior Friendship Centers was seeking volunteers to call seniors in the area to check on them and ask if they needed help getting groceries, prescriptions, or just wanted to have someone check on them periodically to see how they are faring. She called the agency’s Friendship at Home director, Ola Medrzycki, and was given several pages of names with phone numbers, and started in on her job. Her husband Bob, was her sidekick, checking off each name as she went down the list and making sure she wasn’t missing anyone.
During the month of April, Suzanne says between calls and messages, she made about 1,900 connections. She got hung up on a fair amount, as some of the people she called thought she was a telephone solicitor. More than a few of these times, she just called the person back and quickly said “I’m from Senior Friendship Centers and I’m a volunteer calling to say hello.” People were so appreciative not only that a “real person” contacted them, but that a nonprofit organization would take the time to make a personal connection with older adults in the community.
Most of the folks she connected with said they were doing fine, but wanted follow-up calls. Some just wanted a human connection, and Suzanne says that many of them said to her, “thank you for your service.” What she thought was most interesting was how those she called displayed old-fashioned manners and grace in the face of these stressful and sad times, a few remarking at the end of the call, “Aren’t you so sweet to call me!” One gentleman broke down in tears telling her that he had just brought his wife recently to the emergency room, and she’s been diagnosed with COVID-19, and he cannot visit her. The loneliness is crippling, he told Suzanne “It was tough getting over that call,” she recounted.
In addition to giving people a lifeline in this scary time, Suzanne is very proud to have gotten over 60 seniors registered to receive home-delivered meals from Senior Friendship Centers’ nutrition program. The healthy frozen meals, delivered weekly, are free to any Sarasota County resident who is 60 or older, regardless of income. In addition, she let them know about the weekly supply drives in Venice and Sarasota, where fresh produce is distributed.
Suzanne is an author, a blogger, a baker and a maker of unique quilts and fabric designs. Her eye disorder, known as BEB, or benign essential blepharospasm, has been with her since the age of 34; it normally strikes people initially in their 60s. In addition, she suffers from occipital neuralgia, an extreme pain that first hits the back of her neck and travels to her forehead. I remarked to her that she seems like a happy person overall and she told me that she has, over the years, “made friends with BEB,” and is involved with groups of people who suffer from similar challenges. She also receives thirteen injections of Botox per week to relieve some of her suffering.
Suzanne says that the most rewarding thing about volunteering with Senior Friendship Centers is that “it makes me feel good to make others feel good.” Many of the people she called said that it made a huge impression on them to get a personal touch, and that made her job feel important.