Friday, April 20, 2018

How I Finally Found the Right Volunteer Experience

Giving back isn’t always as simple as it sounds, but it's worth it

By Jill Smolowe for Next Avenue

Credit: Getty ImagesMan using computer keyboard, close up

In 2011, social entrepreneur Nancy Lublin had an aha moment: Millennials don’t dial into help lines when they’re in crisis because they hate speaking on the phone. Two years later, Lublin launched the Crisis Text Line, a 24/7 crisis-intervention hotline that enables people to reach out for free help via text messaging — a communication comfort zone for people in their teens and 20s. Plainly, it was an idea whose time had come: In just three years, the hotline’s crisis counselors have exchanged 28 million messages with texters nationwide.

When I first read about the Crisis Text Line, I was instantly interested. Its focus on helping young people in a moment of distress promised to make good use of skills I’d developed as a grief and divorce coach. Couple that with my ongoing search for a satisfying volunteer experience, and it seemed like a slam dunk…

…until I thought about the texting thing. That conjured visions of me tapping out typo after typo with my too-big thumbs on the too-small buttons on my cell phone (a device with which I hardly have a love relationship). I took a pass.

Try, Try Again

As I continued to look for a volunteer opportunity, I was surprised to discover that it’s not so easy to find an outlet that tidily matches the skills and passion you have to offer with the needs of an organization.

One friend told me that she knocked on non-profit doors for years trying to find an outlet for her environmental interests, only to come up empty-handed. Another friend who wanted to do advocacy work for homeless dogs found that the free offer of her time was not enough to get her phone calls returned.

Over the next eight weeks, trainers armed me with a canny array of skills for guiding people through a moment of crisis.

Some of my own efforts proved discouraging. A group that works with grieving children put me through a day-long training, only to notify me that my services wouldn’t be needed at an upcoming weekend-long event. A mentorship writing program that pairs high school girls with professional writers put me on a wait list. Given that I don’t have two heads, do have good manners, and offer a professional track record in both the writing and grief-work fields, I suspected that I was an older candidate than either organization was seeking.

Age proved a non-issue when I signed up for a tutoring program. My fourth-grader and I hit it off from the get-go. But he was a bright 10-year-old boy who didn’t actually need tutoring. Each Wednesday we’d tear through his (boring!) assignments, then play games. Mostly, he kicked my butt at chess. Often our time together felt more like babysitting than “giving back.” (And, ahem, my math skills were not always terribly useful to him.)

A New Approach

Around the time his school year was winding down, my daughter returned from college, absent her cell phone, which mistakenly had gone home with another student. Given my daughter’s 24/7 texting habits, I assumed that retrieving her phone would be a priority. To my surprise, she was actually enjoying the time untethered to a phone. To my greater surprise, that freedom hadn’t cut her off from exchanging texts with her friends.

“I do it on the computer,” she told me.

Subtext: Duh.

Valhalla! Texting via computer would mean a full-size keyboard, a big monitor and none of that annoying thumbs-only stuff that, for me, produces more typos than real words.

Quickly I found my way to and clicked the “Apply Now” button for volunteers. After clearing the assorted hurdles (including a criminal background check and references from two people) and making a yearlong commitment to handle calls four hours a week, I was assigned to an online training pod.

Becoming a Volunteer

Over the next eight weeks, trainers armed me with a canny array of skills for guiding people through a moment of crisis. The focus was on helping people shift from the heat of despair or upset to a place of cool and calm. The list of potential issues we could expect to encounter was formidable, among them suicide, self-harm, sexual abuse, LGBT bullying, eating disorders and homelessness.

No matter what the crisis, the Crisis Text Line approach was clear: you’re not here to solve people’s problems. Rather, you’re here to listen to them, to validate their pain, to remind them of their strengths, then to work with them collaboratively to identify a goal that will help them to keep moving in a positive direction when the texting conversation (convo, in crisis counseling lingo) ends.

In a nutshell, the text line was offering training for a skill that I hadn’t realized could be taught or enhanced: empathy. Armed with a particular style of questioning and response, it was possible to guide texters away from feelings of extreme distress. The hotline’s data backed that up: while some 70 percent of callers open conversations with dire statements (“I’ve lost the will to live,” “Suicidal feelings,” “I’m overwhelmed and want to die”), only 1 percent require intervention to halt a suicide attempt.

Six months later as I near the 100-convo mark, texters who write, “I’m trying not to cut myself,” no longer throw me. (Tip: Try drawing on your skin with a red marker, then tracing the lines with an ice cube. It “bleeds.”) I’ve yet to encounter any of the one-percenters (roughly 10 texters a day) at imminent risk of taking their lives. But I’ve shared the joy of other counselors who, in collaboration with a supervisor, have mounted successful rescues by tapping into local resources.

A Satisfying Experience

The Crisis Text Line platform is mindful of how intense these conversations can be for volunteers. Though everything is done online and I work from home, supervisors are always available to guide. And there is a chat room counselors can turn to for instant advice from other on-duty counselors while handling a difficult conversation.

In another chat room, counselors can take a breather. There, the messages are always supportive and lively. Given that 77 percent of the hotline’s 2,800 active counselors are between the ages of 18 and 35, favored discussion topics run toward cats, holiday plans and grad school applications.

For the 117 crisis counselors who are over age 55, such dialogue offers a delightful window on Millennial interests and preoccupations. The actual crisis conversations provide a sobering window on the stresses young people face today. “Volunteers over age 55 make exceptional crisis counselors,” Lublin said via email. “Through lived experience, they are (not surprisingly!) committed, highly empathetic and strong active listeners.”

As I pass the halfway mark of my first year as a volunteer (at year one, I get a text line sweatshirt. Woohoo!), I feel that it was well worth the hunt to find a volunteer experience that engages my heart, mind and skills. If you, too, are seeking a satisfying volunteer activity, please trust there are people and causes out there that need your time and experience. Just be forewarned: it may take some trial and error to find what you’re looking for.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Parkinson’s Won’t Keep Kingsley Manor Stand-Up Comedian Down

“Did you hear the one about the man who robbed the bank in a wheel chair? He made an easy escape because the security guard jumped up to hold the door open for him.”

From anecdotes about bank robbers who slide past bank security in their wheelchairs to observations on by-stander’s reactions when one takes an unexpected fall, comedian and Kingsley Manor Retirement Community resident Mark Siegel has an unusual, and possibly unique, source for much of his stand-up routine: his Parkinson’s disease.

“I figured if I’m going to get on the stage people are going to wonder why I’m talking soft and slurring my words,” Mark said. “I decided I’d talk about the Parkinson’s at the beginning and see where it goes. I think I got a good response.” Siegel has been living with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that often affects speech and movement, for the past 18 years. But Mark doesn’t let a disease get in the way of good “shtick.”

After a long career as a communication officer for a labor union, he decided to pursue his childhood dream: comedy. One night after watching a friend perform at an open mic, Mark had a revelation.

“It’s not that hard,” he said. “There’s little risk involved other than a little humiliation.” He signed up for a class and eventually testing out his material at open mic nights. So far he’s played to crowds at The Comedy Store, Flappers and, of course, Kingsley Manor. He has been performing for about a year and a half.

“He gets some pretty good laughs,” said Kingsley Manor’s Life Enrichment Director Viktoria Selmser. “He’s not afraid to put himself out there.”

He chose Kingsley partly for its great location. He loves having ready access to all that the city has to offer, including the local comedy clubs.

Mark appreciates the personalized and respectful care he receives for his Parkinson’s at Kingsley. “There’s a balance between privacy and having somebody there to help you. Kingsley gives me exactly what I need.”

But the thing that’s surprised him most are the relationships that he’s developed at Kingsley. “Of my closest friends, one’s a dancer, one is a poet and another is in publishing. They give me the extra push to do something positive and creative,” he explained.

Mark finds having friends and neighbors with common interests helps keep him engaged with his pursuits. “It gives you the extra push to do something,” he explained.

He encourages others with Parkinson’s to figure out a way to explore those things that interest them.

In addition to participating in regular dance and exercise classes offered at Kingsley, Mark runs a political discussion group and is very involved in the Parkinson’s Community LA, an organization which raises money for home care, exercise programs and transportation services for individuals living with Parkinson’s.

And just in case you were wondering … “After the robber escaped from the bank, a police helicopter spotted his wheelchair abandoned in an empty lot. He figured he could elude police by switching wheelchairs,” Mark quipped.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

One Surprising Way Older Adults Can Get Healthier

Credit: Adobe Stock 

You know about the obvious things. Now try this. 
By Dr. Ann Hwang for Next Avenue

Whether or not we actually do the right things to improve our health, many of us probably assume we know what they are. Walk more. Quit smoking. Eat healthier.

It’s a familiar list, and a good one. As a primary care doctor, I spend plenty of time counseling people to do exactly these things. But here’s another, less familiar thing I think you should consider: get engaged in your community. 

The Benefits of Connection 

Civic engagement may not be on the top of everyone’s to-do list, but it probably should be. There is intriguing evidence to suggest that people who are engaged in their communities — through activities like participating in local organizations or volunteering — could also have better health. 

For example, older adults who volunteer are less likely to have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease; they face a lower risk of cognitive impairment and they might even delay death.

Additionally, forming social connections might be particularly helpful in combatting social isolation and loneliness, a growing problem especially among older adults. People who are socially isolated may have increased risk for premature death and some have estimated that the negative impact of social isolation and loneliness could be a greater public health threat than obesity.

Living alone’ having a mobility or sensory impairment; going through a major life transition (like losing a spouse) or being a caregiver for someone with a severe impairment are common scenarios facing older adults. They are also risk factors for isolation.

Yet despite the potential benefits, the average American is becoming less and less engaged. Participation in clubs and civic organizations has fallen by more than half over the last 25 years and polls suggest growing distrust and pessimism about our political system.
Stories of Hopeful Change

In our work at the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, we’ve seen the possibility and promise of change. We support advocates and leaders — particularly people who have significant health care needs or come from low-income communities — who are actively engaged in working to make the health system more responsive and person-centered.

People like Lezrette Hutchinson, a working mother of three who experienced homelessness after a fire and had significant health challenges after a diagnosis of sarcoidosis, a serious inflammatory condition. Hutchinson got treatment, but she didn’t stop there. She formed a recreational support group for people 50+ and joined the patient advisory board of her health system, saying “we wanted doctors to listen to us.”

Now, despite her ongoing illness, she feels the power of having a larger purpose. Hutchinson says: “I became an activist so I could let new people know it was going to be OK.”

Or Kathy Paul, a 69-year-old woman who advocates for better health care policies for older adults with the Massachusetts Senior Action Council. When her husband died, it was a turning point in her life.

She explains, “With more time on your hands, what do you do? Just sit in the house, stare at the walls and complain, or get out and do something about it? What our group likes to say is, ‘We don’t just take it, we take charge!’” 

Everybody Wins 

As the National Academy of Medicine recently summarized, actively engaging consumers as partners in health care is a win-win proposition, for all of us and for the health system. Health care leaders and policymakers interested in improving health would do well to focus on building more opportunities for engagement for consumers and the communities they serve. 

So if you’d like to improve your health, consider looking for ways to become active in your community. Get involved with a local community organization, drive someone to the polls, join a committee at your place of worship. Find a way to get engaged. Help yourself and help others at the same time.

© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

8 Ways to Preserve Your Family Memories

Credit: Adobe Stock 

How to save precious images so future generations can enjoy them
By Claire Zulkey for Next Avenue 

Does that box of unsorted family photos in your closet give you a gnawing feeling? Always wonder what you’re supposed to do with your old slides? Make it a winter project to organize and annotate your family images and records, not just for your current family but for future generations.

After all, said genealogy consultant Maureen “The Photo Detective” Taylor, “It’s your identity. It’s who you are. And you can’t see where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”

These eight tips from genealogists will guide your journey and give you some shortcuts:

1. The most urgent memories to preserve are old home movies. “These are deteriorating every day — you lose the colors on them,” said Scott Fisher, who hosts the radio show Extreme Genes. Services like LegacyBox make it a snap. An added bonus of digitizing old films is that they can be turned into frameable stills, which is how Fisher came away with a cherished photo of himself with his grandfather, brother and father, the latter of whom died young.

2. If you have an old photo album, don’t give into temptation to remove photos for framing or distributing. “If you take that album apart you’ve lost the context of the photos,” said Taylor. Instead, to preserve the album, take a piece of unbleached muslin — that hasn’t been treated with fabric softeners — wrap the album up to keep all the loose pieces together and store it in an acid-free box, easily found at places like the Container Store. If you have old loose photos, Taylor prefers storing them in individual polypropylene sleeves, including a piece of acid-free paper to include any known information about the image.

3. Back up your images to at least two cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive. Documents such as church or hospital records or old letters can be shared with services such as FamilySearch, MyHeritage, or Ancestry. “If something did happen to your house and these things went up in flames, they’re not lost forever,” said Fisher.

You don’t need a fancy scanner to upload your old photos and records: Google PhotoScan is a free app that works on your smartphone. If you have lots of photos, you can take them into a FamilySearch center to access one of its automatic feed scanners. Fisher also suggests hosting a family reunion and renting a high-speed scanner for a weekend — a great opportunity for generations to share their stories (and split the scanner cost). “Everybody walks away with copies of everybody’s digitized pictures without giving up possession of them,” Fisher said.

4. Recruit younger relatives to interview the older ones so you can gain greater family context on video or audio. “They have amazing stories that will be lost forever if we don’t get them on tape,” said A.J. Jacobs, author of It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, who adds that asking “What kind of trouble did you get into as a kid?” often yields great answers.

“If you can afford it or have time yourself, it’s great to transcribe these interviews for easy searching and reference later,” Jacobs suggested.

5. Store your hard copies carefully. Make sure photos and documents are off the floor (in case of floods), and if possible, out of basements or attics and away from vents and rooms that share an outside wall where temperature or moisture fluctuations can cause damage.

6. Tie in contemporary photos on social media to your family archives. Taylor recommends the iPhone app MemoryWeb which syncs with various social media and cloud applications and lets you tag subject headings, names and locations. “It’s really handy,” she said. “When I sync my photos, it prompts me to tag faces and locations it recognizes from my feed.”

Since it’s so easy to drag and drop hundreds of digital photos to the cloud, leave a simple trail for family who may discover them one day. “In each folder devoted to a trip or occasion, I have a simple Word document that lists a bunch of facts to help contextualize,” said Jacobs, including details like “These photos are from our trip to Hawaii in 2016. We stayed at X Hotel. We got to meet Goofy.”

7. Leave a record behind telling your family heirloom’s stories. After discovering an old nickel-plated coffee pot, Fisher was tempted to throw it away until he found some notes his grandmother jotted down in the 1950s. “It was a wedding gift to her parents in Sweden in 1883. It’s the oldest heirloom from that side of the family. Suddenly that’s pretty interesting,” said Fisher. To keep the history paired with his belongings, Fisher created an album with snapshots of family heirlooms and a few sentences explaining their origins.

While Taylor cautions against throwing away photos taken before 1925 or so — “People didn’t take click-a-minute photographs they way they do today,” — she is totally pro-weeding. Taylor doesn’t see the point in holding onto old landscape photos and asks: “Do you really need all your parents’ vacation photos?”

You can also offload your archives and share the wealth with your family members. “Give them their childhood back,” Taylor said. A service like Snapfish, Shutterfly or Chatbooks can easily autopopulate books of uploaded images for you to order to give as gifts.

8. If these options aren’t appealing, contact your local historical society to see if it would be interested in your family trove. But don’t feel compelled to keep things just to keep things. In the spirit of Marie Kondo (author of the bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), Fisher said, “If something doesn’t give you joy anymore, it’s time to move it on.”

© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Veteran Voices: James Downing from Vista de Monte Retirement Community

By James Downing, resident at Vista del Monte Retirement Community

My name is James, and my highest rank was First Lieutenant. I served in this position at Ft. Lewis, Washington, in the Ninth Infantry. I enlisted because the Korean War was being fought and my preference was to go into the Army. I believed this was my duty, since we were at war.

At the time that I enlisted, I was married to my wife, Marguerite, and I was working as a sixth-grade teacher in the Torrance Unified School District, in Los Angeles County. I left my wife and traveled by train to Fort Ord, California, for Basic Training. What I remember the most is that I was very lonely for Marguerite, and any leave time that I had, I spent with her.

After six months of Basic Training, I was selected to be the outstanding soldier of my training company. My first assignment was as an instructor at leadership school. After two months in that role, I was ordered to the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and I trained for six months there.

I served the remainder of my service as Assistant Adjutant Officer assigned to the Ninth Infantry Regiment at Ft. Lewis in Washington. My duties included Courts & Boards, Safety, and Personnel. Although I did not see any combat, half the men in my training company went to Korea, and 50% of these did not return alive. I still feel guilty that so many of the men I knew became casualties, but I served elsewhere.

My commanding officer, a Colonel, was outstanding and a wonderful officer; however, my immediate superior, a Major, was the worst. Upon leaving the military, I resumed teaching and was assigned to the ninth grade at Torrance High. I did graduate work at UCLA, where I received my Master of Arts, and I went on to teach at Lincoln Junior High School in Santa Monica, California.”

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website.

How and Why to Teach Your Grandchildren About Gratitude

Credit: Adobe Stock 
The way that you live your life can offer the best lesson
By Lisa Fields for Next Avenue

One of the best gifts you can give your grandchild isn’t something physical to wrap up and offer as a birthday present. Rather, you can help to instill a strong sense of gratitude in your grandchild with your words and actions, which can help the child see how much good is in his or her life.

“Gratitude is our positive connection to the past,” said Nansook Park, professor of psychology at Michigan State University, who studies the effects of gratitude on children. “It gives us the sense that there are good things around us, and those good things in our life are the result of contributions by others.”

Feelings of gratitude can alter a child’s perception of the world, his or her family and himself or herself. Research has shown that children who feel grateful are more satisfied with life, more compassionate, more likely to perform well academically, more likely to have close relationships with their family members and less likely to be susceptible to stress, depression and early sexual encounters with peers.

Children need to be taught about gratitude to glean its benefits; it’s a learned skill. But it’s easier to teach than you might think. Grandparents can help cultivate a strong sense of gratitude in grandchildren of all ages, from toddlers to teens. Here’s how:
Be a Role Model

From a young age, children observe adults to learn important life lessons. If you demonstrate that you feel grateful and express your gratitude consistently, your grandchildren are likely to follow suit.

“Research shows clearly that young people learn by observing, not by listening,” Park said. “Young people who grow up watching adults around them practicing gratitude in daily life are most likely to internalize those concepts and adopt that kind of practice.”

Grandchildren whose parents or grandparents don’t demonstrate gratitude are less likely to cultivate gratitude themselves, even if the adults in their lives tell them to.

“If you don’t model it yourself, it will have no impact,” said psychologist Eric Dlugokinski, professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma.
Going Beyond ‘Thank You’

From a young age, children are taught to say “thank you” for gifts or kindnesses. But saying the words reflexively doesn’t mean that they’re grateful.

“They are often doing that because they have been prompted and they know it’s a social convention,” said Katelyn Poelker, assistant professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who studies the effects of gratitude on children. “It’s maybe more of a ritual than, ‘Wow, I totally understand all the trouble this person went through to get this toy I really wanted.’”

You can help your grandchildren understand gratitude by teaching them why to say “thank you,” not just when.

“It’s important to explain the rationale behind those automatic thank yous,” Poelker said. “You can only feel gratitude when you understand what the other person had to do to make it a reality for you. A younger child can’t think it through the same way as an older child. Explain it: ‘Grandma called Mommy to see what you wanted, and then she drove all the way to the store and picked it out.’”
Uncovering Silver Linings

Naturally, you want to protect your grandchildren from disappointment. You can’t stop upsetting events from unfolding, but instilling them with a strong sense of gratitude can help.

“It’s part of life to win some and lose some,” Dlugokinski said. “It’s not whether you are defeated at something, it’s whether you bounce back. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from losses.”

If your grandchild is accustomed to thinking about things that he or she is grateful for, it will be easier to find silver linings in upsetting situations and bounce back.

“Gratitude is encouraging young people to shift the focus away from what went wrong,” Poelker said. “It’s framing disappointments and losses in terms of what you still have. Even if you lose the soccer tournament, you still got to spend 16 weeks with the soccer team: The great friendships, the lessons learned and maybe next year, we’ll be better.”
Giving Praise

Complimenting your grandchild is an excellent way to express gratitude in an accessible way.

“It’s good to recognize success,” Dlugokinski said. “It’s especially good to recognize effort. If somebody has tried as hard as they can and did not achieve, recognize that. They can come back and use that same effort and make it work next time.”

Don’t just tell your grandchild that you’re grateful for his or her actions; explain why.

“It doesn’t have to be a long conversation,” Poelker said. “Explain that actions have consequences. If you take the time to explain things on occasion, that’s where the power of those interactions really lie.”
Offering Perspective

Although teens may seem focused on themselves, they haven’t necessarily forgotten about gratitude.

“People often think that young people are entitled and ungrateful, but that is not always true,” Park said. “Adolescence is for young people to focus more on themselves and try to build a sense of identity. Thinking about how others contribute to their life is not exactly what they are interested in doing. This does not mean that they are not grateful.”

You may help teens embrace gratitude by pointing out sacrifices that others have made for them.

“Encourage them to see things from multiple vantage points,” Poelker said. “It sets them up to better appreciate all the kind things that have been done for them when you understand what it took for the other person to make that happen.”
Expressions of Gratitude

When your grandchild receives a gift, you can encourage him or her to write a thank-you card. If you start early on, card-writing can become a positive habit.

“If adults make it fun with young people and truly explain the meaning of activity, [writing thank-you notes] can be a part of family ritual,” Park said. “However, if adults demand or preach young people to do it as an obligation while they are not doing it, it is not only less effective but it creates resentment and resistance.”

Younger children can get into the habit by drawing thank-you pictures. Older children can dig deep within themselves.

“I would recommend that the note explain why the child is grateful, rather than, ‘Thanks for the gift,’” Poelker said. “You strengthen that bond, acknowledging something deeper than, ‘Hey, you got me something.’ It’s beneficial both for the benefactor and the beneficiary.”

© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Veteran Voices from LifeBio: Dr. John Grover

by Dr. John Grover, resident at Fredericka Manor Retirement Community

On my 18th birthday, I enlisted in the Navy – my older brother was already a Navy pilot. At the time that I enlisted, the war was still on, so I felt committed to being a serviceman. I wanted to be a hospital corpsman, but because I did well on the Eddy Test, I was earmarked for electronics school, which is what I ended up doing. A whole year of intensive technical training in electronics was good preparation for college. After my training ended, I volunteered to go anywhere in the world and was sent to Washington, D.C., where I helped develop new electronic communications equipment. Learning to deal with the pressures and experiences of complex electronics service was a good background for my future medical career. I later "shipped over" to gain the GI Bill to help pay for my educational expenses. By then the war was over, so I did not see combat.

Boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station was marred by my catching mumps and being hospitalized for three weeks. The war ended while I was in basic training, and I remember singing in a 10,000-voice choir to celebrate. I kept a diary during my technical schooling in Gulfport, Mississippi, but I was more concerned with describing the pretty girls at the USO or sailing trips on the Gulf of Mexico. I remember one time when I knitted a pair of booties at the USO for my new nephew, to amazing looks from the girls.

Upon my discharge from the Navy, I went directly from my station in Maryland to Harvard College, and did not get home until Christmas, 1949. I felt immediately at home at Harvard Yard that year. I was one of the vets still turning up for college, and we had mature goals. I had a Pepsi Cola scholarship that helped with college expenses, and I had saved the GI Bill so that I could attend medical school. A fellowship sponsored by the Josiah Macy Foundation helped with post-graduate education. I felt excited but really at home in finally getting the medical training I had always wanted. I went on to become a doctor, specializing in obstetrics/gynecology. In fact, I have delivered over 5,000 babies in my 40-year medical career!

Music has always been an important part of my life, from the early tutorings of my mother on piano to learning the trombone with Frank Troy, Sr. and Mildred Fowler in high school. I played in a traveling dance band in the summers of 1943 and 1944, and also with a band in the Navy, with weekly concerts on the Potomac River. In college, I played with the Harvard band, a full-sized dance band, and a small Dixieland group. During my adult life, I sang in church choirs regularly, because tenors are always needed. These activities have continued throughout my retirement, both in Chicago and here in Chula Vista.

I am grateful for the gift of good health throughout my life. I am especially grateful for my wife, Philippa, whom I have known since our childhood days in West Virginia, and the wonderful family we have shared.

LifeBio is an engagement program that captures cherished memories and lasting legacies through storytelling. Since launching in 2000, LifeBio has helped 20,000 people tell their life stories through autobiographical tools and services for all levels of care. LifeBio uses technologies as mediums to help individual document their stories in an easy and unique way such as tablets, web cams, and audio and video equipment. LifeBio has been a partner with Front Porch since 2009. For more details, check out LifeBio’s Impact Story on the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing (FPCIW) website. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yvonne and Paul: A Love Story Made for the Movies

Sunny View Residents: Paul and Yvonne
In the 1950s Paul Hardman was living in Alabama, working as an aerospace engineer when he had a chance encounter that would change his life. While watching the 1956 musical Glory at the local drive-in, a lovely young woman captured his eye. Unfortunately, she was not a fellow movie goer – but rather a dazzling vision appearing on the silver screen itself. “I need to meet a girl like THAT,” Paul thought.

The girl in question was up and coming actress, Yvonne Ginest. 

Soon after her movie debut, Yvonne was admitted to the hospital for polio. She survived, but recovery was slow and her career was put on hold. Rather than return to acting, she decided to turn her attention to helping others suffering from the debilitating disease. She began working for the March of Dimes Telethon (a leader in funding polio research and treatment at the time) where she met some of the biggest names in music, including Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald.

Meanwhile, Paul’s career brought him to California. “I had just moved into my new apartment when I stumbled upon this lovely young woman in the courtyard. She seemed so familiar,” he said. He attempted to start a conversation but the woman had terrible laryngitis and could barely utter a word. “I ran back to my apartment, grabbed a pad of paper and a pen for her to write on and asked her for her name.” The young woman wrote her name down and handed him back the pad: Yvonne Ginest. Suddenly, it all came together. Paul had stumbled upon his movie star. Three weeks later he proposed. 

Fifty years later Paul and Yvonne moved to Sunny View after having their “eye on the place for years.” They loved the feeling of being close to nature as well as the friendliness of the residents and staff. “The settled us right in. The staff were just so wonderful.”

Paul and Yvonne continue their love story at Sunny View!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Invisibility of Being Old, Disabled or Both

Credit: Adobe Stock 

An 82-year-old woman with post-polio syndrome feels erased from society
By Grace Birnstengel for Next Avenue 

When you’re an older person in a wheelchair or walking with a cane, people treat you differently. Sure, some might be quicker to open doors for you, but most of the behavioral reactions aren’t positive ones. The combination of being old and disabled causes what many refer to as “invisibility.” 

Frank Bruni, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, explored this idea in a recent column through the lens of 82-year-old Nancy Root, a woman with post-polio syndrome Bruni met while giving a lecture on a cruise. Root taught Bruni how it felt to be seen as invisible because of her age and perceived ability. 

“People looked over her, around her, through her. They withdrew,” Bruni wrote. 

An Intersection of -Isms 

The concept of invisible older people — specifically older women — is not new. Novelist and screenwriter Ayelet Waldman discussed with us the invisibility of turning 50 as a woman. 

“I had no idea that as soon as I got to his age, to be a 50-year-old woman, the sexism gets completely complicated by this idea that not only are you incompetent as a woman, but you’re incompetent because you’ve reached your senescence! Or something,” Waldman told Next Avenue. “I really do feel like they don’t even see you.” 

The intersection of ageism and sexism provides a uniquely taxing form of oppression. Add a layer of ableism to that and you start to see exactly what Root describes experiencing.

Edited Out 

Root had polio as a 2-year-old in the late 1930s; now, post-polio syndrome — which many childhood survivors of the disease develop — degrades her muscles, forcing her to use a cane and a wheelchair. As she’s aged and the condition has worsened, Root has noticed that people no longer look at her the same. Instead, she’s erased. 

“Doctors’ offices are the worst,” she told Bruni, recalling how people won’t address her directly, but rather speak to whoever is pushing her wheelchair. “I’m not acknowledged. ‘Does this lady have an appointment?’ ‘Does this lady have her medical card?’ They don’t allow this lady to have a brain.” 

And it’s not just at doctors’ offices. This extends to nearly every situation — movie theaters, flights, grocery stores, you name it. 

“They make dismissive assumptions about people above a certain age or below a certain level of physical competence,” Bruni’s column said. “Or they simply edit those people out of the frame.” 

Root told Bruni she thinks strangers worry that she’ll need something from them, or perhaps they see their fears about being older manifested in her and can’t bare to face them.

Regardless of the root cause of how we see older, disabled people as “other” or less than, Root’s experience is the reality for countless older, disabled adults. 

Harkening back to 2016 Influencer in Aging E. Percil Stanford’s story advocating for the humanization and value of older people, we as a society must do “everything possible to embrace the inclusion of older people in every aspect of life.” 

Only then will people like Nancy Root start to see change.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2018. All rights reserved.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Take the Time to Better Care for Yourself

Credit: Adobe Stock

7 steps to the self-care you need
By Ken Druck for Next Avenue

Becoming a smarter, stronger, more self-caring version of yourself is both freeing and empowering.

I recently discussed the concept of self-care and the ways to set yourself up for — and avoid sabotaging — the way you take emotional and physical care of yourself. After you agree that you are worthy of self-care and will overcome the factors you let stand in your way before, you’re ready to move forward with these seven steps to self-care:

Step No. 1. Make the Decision to Change the Way You Take Care of Yourself

Undertaking change of this magnitude and importance takes courage, humility, conviction and a vision of your best possible future. These steps allow you to say “Yes!” to yourself. You have a right to do the things that make life better, easier, less stressful and more joyful and to say “No” to the people and things draining and depleting you. Sustainable change requires a promise that you make to yourself: “I will do whatever is necessary to become the better (more self-caring, self-respecting) version of myself.” You may not know exactly how you’re going to change deeply ingrained, habitual thinking and behavior, but you are 100 percent committed to finding out and following through.

Step No. 2. Define Your End Goal

Begin to sketch out how you want it all to look and feel after you’ve succeeded. Perhaps you’re sleeping longer, exercising regularly, eating better and speaking to yourself with greater kindness/compassion. You may be ready to hand in your resignation as someone’s doormat, whipping post, dumping ground and enabler in favor of a more reciprocal relationship. Or you may be a “pleaser” who’s ready to face your own fears about letting people down.

Some of us have gotten used to following the elephant around the circus with a shovel. And we’re just waking up. Something is shifting inside of us, declaring, “Enough!” and “It’s time!” We are ripe for a change.

So, whatever your end goal, take the time to state what it is. Get clear about your desired outcome by writing it down, as in: “The return on my investment of learning greater self-care is going to be ______.

Step No. 3. Make a List of Things/People You Need to Say “No” To

Write down 15 people and things you need to learn how to say “No” to. Begin each sentence with “The people I need to learn how to say ‘No’ to are …” or “I need to learn how to say ‘No’ when . . .” Some of us are born caregivers, pleasers and rescuers. Having spent a good part of our lives taking care of other people’s needs, we almost automatically say “Yes” to others who seem to require assistance. We do this even to the neglect of our own health and well-being.

But now it’s time to stop putting yourself and the people you cherish at risk by overcommitting to things that are not in your best interest. Prioritizing and saying “No” may be quite difficult in the beginning. Old feelings of guilt, obligation and responsibility are hard to kick. After a while, however, you’ll begin to feel 100 percent better and thank yourself for staying strong. The people who matter to you will still love you, and the ones who depended on you to say “Yes” even when it wasn’t right will be somebody else’s problem. The results of learning to say “No” speak (loudly) for themselves.

Step No. 4. Lighten Your Load, Unburden Yourself and Allow Yourself Some Pleasure

Although it may be terribly unpopular (years of training the people around you that with a little guilt, you’ll do anything), it’s time to begin letting folks know that you’re in the process of making a change.

Learning to delegate and share and assign responsibility to others, like any new skill, takes time and practice. You may be unaccustomed to the patience, kindness, encouragement and support you get from others. And you may be unfamiliar with the act of giving yourself permission to turn off the computer and phone and just take a hot bath. Don’t let the old voices of self-criticism, fear and condemnation weaken your resolve, as they once did. Continue to get clear about the things that lighten your heart and your load. Set yourself free to delight in and savor the goodness of life. And, most of all, give yourself permission to be happy.

Step No. 5. Listen to Yourself

Sometimes the best source of wise counsel comes from within. Stop, go to a quiet place, take a deep breath and tune in to yourself. Listen to the inner voice that tells you to “slow down,” “relax” and “take it easy” — the one that gives you the encouragement, strength and guidance you need to take care of yourself in the best way possible. Listening to the kindest, most patient, supportive, forgiving and nurturing parts of yourself is always a good thing when it comes to self-care. So, stay strong. Don’t allow any of your self-care saboteurs to talk you out of what you now know is best for you.

Step No. 6. Find or Create Self-Care Opportunities in All Your Relationships

The choices you make in your relationships are as much a reflection of your willingness and ability to practice self-care as any other factor. Relationships are also one of life’s greatest testing grounds for discovering, learning and practicing self-care. Balancing taking care of your relationships with family, aging parents, kids, friends and co-workers with taking care of yourself is one of life’s greatest challenges. Keep reminding yourself that it’s no longer OK to cave in — and that you can do this!

Step No. 7. Pat Yourself on the Back for a Job Well Done

When it comes to taking better care of yourself, every step forward, including baby steps, is worthy of an encouraging, congratulatory pat on the back. You did it! Despite the fear and resistance that comes with change, you are summoning the courage and strength to become the better, more caring version of yourself. This is difficult (inner and outer) work, not to be taken for granted or glossed over. By stopping and appreciating yourself, you are writing new chapters in the books The Care and Feeding of Me and My Honor Code for the Work I Do.

Self-care is your hand resting gently on your heart. Giving yourself your due has nothing to do with selfishness, entitlement, arrogance or taking food out of someone else’s mouth. Self-care is a gift born of a humble gratitude for the life you’ve been given and the person you are. Self-care is a work in progress. So, take every opportunity to implement and improve your master plan. Don’t wait until a crisis or the end of your life to grant yourself permission to indulge in loving self-care — or to finally feel deserving of it. Do it now!

My wish is that you cultivate life-affirming, health-giving self-care practices. Allow yourself to receive as graciously and freely as you give. And may the gentleness, kindness, self-compassion, generosity of heart, forgiveness and permission you’re learning to give yourself spread like a warm breeze across the world. A self-caring individual, family, community, company and world is one that is resilient, compassionate, competent, productive and, ultimately, at peace.

Ready to put a new self-care plan into action? Let’s do this! Click here to print your own Self-Care Action Plan.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2018. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Meet Front Porch Board Member and Board Chair of the Sunny View Foundation, Lynn North!

Congratulations to Front Porch Board Member and Board Chair of the Sunny View Foundation, Lynn North on her many accomplishments!

Meet Lynn North, Real Estate Professional

This article was re-posted from Bay Area Women Magazine

Q: How long have you been in the Real Estate business?

LN: I have been in real estate for almost 14 years, starting as an assistant for 2 of the top agents for a year to really get a sense of the business and develop a strong understanding of the details. Prior to changing careers, I was a vice president at Pacific Bell and SBC, where my team built the infrastructure that we now know as Silicon Valley with all of the large accounts headquartered here. Also, I ran our church (Immanuel Lutheran Church) for 5 years when our long-term pastor retired. As a youth director at our church during 4 of those years, I took 40 teens to Mexico to build homes for the poor, which was very inspiring and really rewarding in seeing how it gave the kids a broader perspective of life.

Q: What designations or certifications do you hold?

: Relocation is my current designation, where I help my clients and their families moving to this area get settled into the community. Alain Pinel Realtors has an extensive relocation program, where I have helped many of my clients buy vacation homes or relocate to anywhere in the world through their recommendations and referrals. Previously, I have had SRES, which focused on seniors.

Q: What percentage of your clients are buyers vs. sellers?

LN: The majority of my clients are sellers. While I am in the top 5% of my business, I only take one listing at a time, so I can dedicate my time to that seller in marketing their home. The result is I usually bring in the highest offer for that neighborhood, which gives them their greatest return on their investment. I attend to all of the details, including preparing their home for the market and directly working with all of the potential buyers and their agents. For my buyers, I really focus on what they are looking for and make sure they have a great lender, which can strengthen their offer and make them as competitive with all cash offers. Also, I have a good reputation amongst my peers, so listing agents really encourage me to write an offer for their property, which helps my buyers as well. I am thorough in researching the comparative market sales and reviewing the disclosures, so my buyers are confident in what they are buying and at the right price.

Q:If you had to make one prediction of where the Silicon Valley Real Estate market will be in 2020 … what would it be?

LN: I believe there will continue to be a strong demand for housing with continued struggles of less inventory and pent up demand. Many seniors and baby boomers are not moving because of their capital gains and the need to keep their property taxes down with Prop 13 (currently they can only transfer it to 11 counties). Frequent needs in the cycle of life are first time home buyers, young families moving up, baby boomers downsizing and selling their parents homes, along with people from all over the world here for new jobs. Our main concern is buyers being priced out of the market as well. We should see a correction in our appreciation rate to go to a more “normal” rate soon (10% per year).

With 5 world-leading industries headquartered here (see list below), we continue to be a buoyant economy with jobs requiring many skill sets & healthy appreciation rates:
  • Entrepreneurial/VCs/Stanford
  • Tech including Apple, wireless, chips, Google and new AI
  • Bio Tech, Pharmaceuticals & Medicine (Stanford & UCSF)
  • Clean Tech such as solar, Tesla (automotive)
  • Animation Entertainment (Pixar, Nvidia & Lucas Films)
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment while in the Real Estate business

LN: Helping my clients realize their dreams in getting their first home or seeing my retired clients realize their greatest return on their investment for their retirement.

Q: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Sunny View’s Foundation?

LN: I have been chair of the Sunny View board for over 15 years, which is a non-profit senior retirement community in Cupertino. We have created an environment where our seniors have a renewed purpose to their lives and are able to continue to thrive in their later years & fulfill their legacy. We leverage tech products such as iN2L (very large computer wall tablet) and artificial intelligence tools such as Echo dots and Nest thermostats to assist them. With iN2L, our cognitive or dementia residents in Summer House can play the piano and entertain their neighbors or other residents can see their hometowns or attend their grandchildren’s weddings. Partnering with local high schools, those students can earn community service hours in writing the biographies of our residents as a gift for their families. Residents raise money for scholarships for the staff and together they work on community projects that benefit children in the hospital. The local Lutheran churches started it, so the spiritual element is there and we have a full time chaplain who brings wonderful programs and worship services for our residents as well.

Q: If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why? 

LN: I would like to answer with 2 people. Jesus Christ and Abraham Lincoln. As a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln (my paternal grandmother’s grandmother’s cousin was Nancy Hanks, his real mother) I would love to interview him on how we can heal our nation by realizing we have more in common than have differences. I would love to meet Jesus to learn from him on how he changed us to serve others and be inspired by his message on gratitude and being in his presence.

Q: What’s your favorite movie? 

LN: Like most people, movies that inspire me or give a historical perspective (Titanic and Hidden Figures) or funny stories such as Mama Mia or The Great Outdoors.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you? 

LN: My dad told me to be true to yourself as integrity is critical and then you'll be in a position to take care of others. By being a caring and honest person, you will attract the right people in your life. Make a difference and make your life count, as life is so precious.

Q: What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area? 

LN: As a 4th Bay Area generation,
  • It’s vibrant with great jobs, is inclusive & multi cultural with wineries, great restaurants and entertainment
  • Has the best weather & within 3 hours of snow for skiing or half hour to the beach
  • Is intellectually stimulating (near top Stanford (dad was an alum) and Cal (grandparents and uncle were alums)
  • Close to 3 airports for easy access to travel
  • Great sports teams as we’re 49ers, Warriors and Giants’ fans
  • San Francisco, which is one of the most beautiful and coveted cities in the world.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wesley Wheelers’ First CyberCycle Competition

By Dan Chang, resident at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

A few weeks before a national CyberCycle competition took place among senior communities, Wesley Palms Retirement Community had a chance to get acquainted with this stationary smart bike. Equipped with virtual reality screens, CyberCycle connects riders from all over the world and allows them to compete with each other.

The goal of the national competition was for a team to ride as many miles as possible during a week. Since many of our team members had only ridden the bike a couple of times before the competition began our goal was simple: the Wesley Wheelers were determined to stay out of last place! However, by the third day of the competition, we learned that we were in sixth place nationwide, out of a total of 85 teams. This generated a wave of enthusiasm and a desire to hang on to that position! By the fifth day of the competition we learned that we were only about 10 miles behind a team from Alaska that was in fifth place. That night we managed to pass the Alaskans to take over fifth place and were determined not to let them recapture the lead.

We needed to build up an insurmountable lead, about 20 miles, by midnight during the last
day of the competition. However, at dinner hour the day before, we learned that we were only a few miles behind the fourth place team in New Jersey. This ignited another wave of enthusiasm and adrenaline. That night and the next morning we rode a few extra miles allowing us to pass the New Jersey team by breakfast on Saturday morning. Knowing that the race would end for us that night, the team decided to keep the bike as “busy” as possible all day Saturday to try to stay in fourth place. The lead for fourth place changed during the day and we were passed by New Jersey during the lunch hour. Two of our grittier teammates, Barbara and Phyllis, determined that they were not going to let that happen again during our dinner hour. They kept the bike busy through dinner. Well, needless to say, we passed the New Jersey team when they stopped to have their dinner. We kept riding until 9 pm PDT (12 midnight EDT). They never caught up and by then, we had built a 40-mile lead over the Alaskans so we stopped to party!

We learned a lot about ourselves, teamwork and sportsmanship during the event. Especially from the first place team from Santa Barbara. It turned out that our top rider, Dan,
was in fourth place in the individual rider’s competition, and only a few miles ahead of two of the Santa Barbara riders during the last hours of the competition. He was also only a few miles behind the third place rider (also from Santa Barbara). So our strategy was to continue to ride intermittently in order to keep the third place competitor riding, thereby preventing the fifth and sixth place riders from catching up (since Santa Barbara only had one CyberCycle). Unbeknownst to Dan, the lead riders for the Santa Barbara team had stopped riding in order to allow as many of the entire team’s riders to achieve 10 miles in order to get their “badges” and “T-shirt” for the competition. Their lead riders sacrificed their potential third and fourth-place individual rider finishes and Dan wound up in third place even though any one of those three riders could have easily passed him. What a great lesson in teamwork and sportsmanship!

Learn more about CyberCycle from our sister community, Fredericka Manor HERE.

Friday, January 5, 2018

My New Year’s Un-Resolutions for 2018

Credit: Adobe Stock

Getting out of your own way and finding Zen
By Ken Druck for Next Avenue

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I’m changing things up a little this year and making a few New Year’s “un-resolutions.”

Perhaps it’s the campaign for irreverent and audacious aging I’ve been on since the publication of my new book. The oppositional-defiant 68-year-old kid in me is tired of making New Year’s resolutions. Having been hell-bent on self-improvement most of my life, maybe I’m doing this to free myself of the shoulds, coulds and ought to do’s.

Taking a break from making agreements I might not keep; pressuring myself to be better, smarter, thinner, healthier, richer and happier; giving myself a sabbatical from striving, stressing and/or straining to willfully plan or control the future or make deadlines… might be just what the doctor ordered.
2018: A Year to Learn Valuable Life Lessons

The new year, 2018, could be the perfect time for learning valuable life lessons.

The hidden benefits of taking a step back from my driven type-A personality and letting things evolve naturally could add immeasurably to the quality, length and enjoyment of my life. Not to mention my relationships. I ‘ve decided that my word for the new year is going to be “ease.”

And so, with all due respect to procrastination-ending promises, spirited goals, deeply held commitments and news-making fresh starts, I’m opting out of New Year’s resolutions and treating the first of the year as just another precious day.

My Un-Resolution for the Year Ahead

The sun will rise and fall in the absence of anything resembling a resolution. Instead, my un-resolution, to leave all well alone, resist having to resolve anything, and let go and relax will go into effect at midnight on Dec. 31.

This doesn’t mean I’m not open to positive change and self-improvement this coming year. Or that my contrarian inner child has taken over and I’m going to the dark side. Nor does it mean I’m opposed to making things as good as, if not better, than they’ve ever been. I’m actually counting on having one of my best years ever in 2018.
Becoming More ‘Zen Ken’

It just means that I’m going to lighten up, calm my heart, feel grateful for what I already have and become a little more “Zen Ken.”

By lightening up, I’m going to allow myself to move through the moments, hours, days, weeks and months of this new year allowing — rather than pressing — to get things done. Allowing my moods, motivations, energy, dreams, aspirations, habits and patterns to rise and fall with the sun will be a refreshing departure from my task-driven way of life.

How to do this will, of course, be a challenge — I imagine there will be lots of deep breaths, saying “no” and biting my tongue involved. But I’m ready. Taking time off from exerting effort and forcing change will open new doors of discovery. And I’m excited.

Driving Some Family Members Crazy

Resolving not to lose weight, work less, get healthier, save the world, make more money, eat better, learn to play the guitar, grow my business — or even be a more loving father, fiancĂ©, son, brother and uncle is already driving a few of my family members crazy. “How could you be so negative?” one of my positive-think friends asked.

Driven by our ardent willfulness, pressure, adrenaline and “never enough” messages, we fail to allow that which is already unfolding in us, and in the world, to emerge. This year, I’m going to get out of my own way, step aside and trust that the better version of me will awaken if, when and how it’s ready to do so.

I’m ready to see what good things can bubble up without champagne-induced New Year’s Resolutions — and run with them.

Signing off gratefully and wishing you an especially joyous new year,

Zen Ken

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2018. All rights reserved.