Thursday, September 1, 2016

Seniors Helping Seniors

From Cupertino to Cameroon, Sunny View Residents Adopt a Sister Village and Raise Money for Needy Seniors

by Bill Penrod, Development Director for the Sunny View Foundation

As Development Director for the Sunny View Foundation my primary commitment is to make sure the Foundation meets the needs of our residents at Sunny View Retirement Community and Sunny View West, the adjacent affordable housing community. Our scope of philanthropic work usually stays fairly close to home, however, this summer we came across an opportunity to extend the reach of our generous Sunny View family by directing our giving to a community of seniors on the other side of the globe; in Cameroon, Africa.

Brought to our attention by Jack York (the founding CEO of iN2L, tablet based technology recently introduced at Sunny View), this opportunity to help became a life-changing one for everyone involved.

It started with a goat named “Jacky.”
While attending the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging conference, Jack York met Francis Njuakom Nchii, the executive director for Community Development Volunteers for Technical Assistance located in Cameroon. After a moving presentation by Francis detailing the mistreatment of women and the elderly in his home country, Jack felt compelled to make a contribution to the cause, which provides assistance to disadvantaged seniors with a particular focus on women and widows. Jack later received an email from Francis explaining how the funds were used to set up a project called “The Jack York Elderly Women’s Sustainable Goat Rearing Project in North West Region Cameroon.” They even named a goat after him: “Jacky.”

Jack was thrilled that his donation had made a difference and was inspired to do more. He sent out an email to 100 people, including Sally Plank, the executive director at Sunny View, asking for help.

Francis made quite an impression to all.
I’ve met three United States presidents, high-profile athletes from every sport, television celebrities and none of that compares to meeting Francis. We decided to approach Sunny View residents and staff about this important cause. Funds raised would go to support projects such as goat rearing, gardening, farming and beekeeping and well as providing for much needed essentials like blankets and gas lamps. We set up a video call with our residents. Francis brought seniors from a nearby village to attend as well. That was the moment--seeing other seniors in need and hearing their stories--that really inspired our residents. 

Our next step was planning a celebration ceremony to welcome Francis to Sunny View. Jack York organized an “American” road trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Las Vegas, Nevada and then Sunny View. Francis was moved by the kindness and the openness of the American people. By the time he reached Sunny View he truly understood what the American dream is all about. 

The day of the celebration was a typical morning at Sunny View. Residents were having coffee, reading the local newspaper and watching the news on television. The night before Francis had enjoyed a lively dinner with our residents and when I entered the main dining room there already a buzz about the upcoming event.

Dressed in traditional Cameroonian attire, Francis spoke about his childhood. The oldest child of his father’s first of three wives, Francis was one of 26 children. He described how difficult it was to watch his mother suffer from the beatings his father gave her and his other wives every morning just to show his dominance. After his father’s death, as is the custom in Cameroon, his mother had to give up her property, so Francis and his mother were left homeless and penniless.

Francis also talked about a custom in his country to remove your hat and kneel in the presence of seniors. Francis then proceed to remove his hat and kneel in front of our residents. Everyone was moved by his heart-felt homage. He then went on to described the hardship in Africa and how God has guided him from Africa to India to Australia to the United States --that each time he thought there was no way of getting more done for his seniors, God intervened and provided guidance. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Seniors helping seniors.
We presented our donation: checks from our residents and staff as well as from our parent company Front Porch totaling more than $11,000 to support his seniors.

Francis was compelled to share one last story. He asked for a resident volunteer and Mary Ellen Snodgrass raised her hand. With Mary Ellen at his side, Francis described how in Cameroon, he pays reverence to seniors because as the silver-haired bearers of wisdom they are closest to God’s image. Mary Ellen, teary eyed, hugged Francis as though they were long-time friends.

This experience left our entire community feeling acknowledged and valued in a way that is sometimes rare in our youth-fixated culture. And this feeling, of being recognized as an asset to society--one worth investing in--is part of the gift we hope to deliver our new friends in Cameroon.

Bill Penrod is the Development Director for the Sunny View Foundation (a Front Porch philanthropic partner) which serves Sunny View and Sunny View West Retirement Community residents starting the next chapter of their lives. Find out more about the Sunny View Foundation HERE.

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