June 22, 2018
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Never too old: spending time with seniors

Robin Clifford Wood | BDN
Robin Clifford Wood | BDN
Obie Clifford, 81, after starting voice lessons in his 70s, now volunteers to sing concerts in retirement homes. He performed in Falmouth earlier this fall.
By Robin Clifford Wood, Special to the BDN

A few weeks ago, I drove down to Falmouth to see my 81-year-old father perform in front of a crowd. My Dad has been speaking in public for many decades in the context of his consulting work, based in New York City. I’ve also seen him address crowds as a fundraising leader for various not-for-profits. But this was something different. He was visiting a retirement community, and he was there to sing.

Dad has always loved singing, but it wasn’t until he was well into his 70s that he decided to take voice lessons. After some months, his teacher (and accompanist) encouraged him to sing in public, to give himself something to work toward. Now, he gives concerts of golden oldies and popular Broadway hits in retirement communities all around New York. Some friends of his live at Ocean View in Falmouth, Maine, and they invited him to come sing there. So he and his teacher took their show on the road.

I was so proud of my father, watching him pour genuine heart into his music. The best part, though, was seeing how happy it made him. Dad has given generously to so many throughout his life, but most of his giving has not been face-to-face. He is genuinely moved to see the smiles, or an occasional nostalgic tear, on the faces of audience members. In between songs he always manages to make people laugh, and I can see his own face glow in response.

He never realized, he told me, how wonderful it would feel to do something like this.

Giving is almost always a win-win proposition. I have heard people argue that true altruism doesn’t exist, because if giving makes them happy, then they are giving partly for their own benefit. I say, who cares? The bottom line is, giving helps everyone, including the giver.

In this season of hope, thanks, and generosity, I wanted to dedicate this column to the many ways in which we may volunteer our time to help others, specifically, how to brighten the lives of the elderly. There are so many ways that we can give. Anyone can find the giving niche that suits them. Your giving will be a gift to yourself as much as it is a gift to others.

I got in touch with several organizations in the Bangor area that serve senior citizens. Here is a taste of what you can do:

Kelly Gilks is the activities and volunteer coordinator at the Hammond Street Senior Center, a three story building downtown filled with warm and comfortable meeting spaces of all kinds. They use volunteers for administrative and maintenance work, but also to play piano, or teach things like Facebook, Zumba, digital photography, and art. Volunteers also work through three seasons on their rooftop garden. With the many spaces they have available, the senior center can accommodate almost any kind of activity that springs from the minds of their creative volunteers.

“There is no reason for any senior in the Bangor area to sit at home,” said Gilks.

Ingrid Holyoke at the Maine Veterans Home said that the Air National Guard, Masons, and VFW all contribute a great deal, but they love other volunteers as well — people to come in and play Pokeno, cards, cribbage, or to sing or play a musical instrument.

The activities director at Dirigo Pines, Juanita Taylor, does not use a lot of volunteers, but she has great ideas for things that volunteers can do. They have people who run a book club, art history presentations, exercise programs, a bereavement group, and themed discussion groups.

Linda Nickerson at Phillip-Strickland/Boyd Place had enough ideas to fill a column on her own. They need help at parties with passing refreshments or asking trivia questions, and at weekly bingo games. Residents enjoy playing cards, Scrabble, and Yahtzee one-on-one with visitors. They also love to learn or practice crafts and art with volunteer leaders. Visits from children of all ages are very popular — kids might come to visit, or play or perform a musical or dramatic presentation. Pets are also welcome, especially dogs, which do not have to be therapy dogs but need to be leashed, controlled and licensed. Another popular event is a “Meet the Candidates” session before elections.

“We enjoy having people from our community come in to host a slide show, discussion group, history discussion and more. Our residents like to stay connected to our community.”

Additionally, and this is true for almost all retirement communities, music and art are extremely popular, whether it’s instruction, singalong, or just something to sit and enjoy.

Currently, Nickerson is looking for someone to revive a poetry group that used to be very popular. They are also seeking contributions to the “goodies” that will fill residents’ Christmas stockings this year.

Keep in mind that before volunteering, it is usually necessary to make arrangements ahead of time, have a background check, and-or complete a short orientation process.

“Everyone has some type of talent to offer,” said Nickerson. Offer it up as a gift to yourself, and share the joy.

Contact numbers for some organizations are below, but there are many others who would appreciate your time and your presence.

Phillip Strickland House/Boyd Place (Linda Nickerson): 941-2820, lnickerson@pshouse.org

Hammond Street Senior Center (Kelly Gilks): 262-5532

Maine Veterans Home (Ingrid Holyoke): 942-2333

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.


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