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The Second Half: A different kind of thanks

December 16, 2009

By Kathleen D. Tresemer

Columnist

I am fortunate to be invited to some wonderful events in our community. I get invited, not because I am a famous newspaper columnist—seriously!—but because I love to participate in positive groups and activities, such as the recent Super Senior Awards.

In November at Cliffbreakers Restaurant and Conference Center, Lifescape Community Services hosted their 19th Annual Super Seniors Awards breakfast with the slogan, “Use it or lose it!” Now, I’m familiar with the concept of “use it or lose it” having once been a dancer…the best I can hope for these days is to keep from falling down while I carry a basket of laundry. No pirouettes for me, at least not where anyone can see me: “Oh, look at that poor old woman spinning in circles! Or is she staggering? Should we call a doctor?”

On the other hand, “use it or lose it” also applies to my fervent effort at keeping my brain healthy so my mind doesn’t turn to goo before I reach the age of 120. A wonderful brain researcher once advised me that all the right things are useless if you don’t “watch out for that bus!” So, I try to stay sharp, especially in traffic.

Alan Jones, master of ceremonies, and Mike Robinson, awards presenter, brought TV-style flair to the Super Seniors Awards. Keynote speaker Kelly Epperson dished out her very special message of joy to everyone at the event, waking us up with her hilarious outlook on life. Kelly’s message—“When life stinks, it’s time to wash the gym clothes!”—gave everyone something to smile about. She also offers her Joy newsletter for FREE to anyone with an e-mail address. Go to www.kellyepperson.com for more info about that and her newest book, 365 Days of Joy, a great gift for anyone this holiday season.

The idea that seniors are honored for anything at all does my heart good. Many people have shared with me their adventures in the insurance and health systems, and it has left a bad taste in my mouth, I can tell you! A lot of folks out there have been good citizens their whole lives, only to have to wait until they save enough money to get their teeth cleaned or refill their prescriptions. In many cultures, people in their Second Half of life are valued—even cherished!—for their wisdom and experience, as well as their lifetime of contributing to society. Funny how, in our culture, the older you get the more, um…inconvenient you are. Sound familiar?

One 60-something guy I know tells the kids, “I might not walk as fast as I used to, but I can probably accomplish more in a couple of hours than you do in a couple of days!”

“Cranky old geezer,” they mutter behind his back while tick-tick-ticking away at their hand-held games. Interestingly, when anything needs to be fixed or one of those kids has a problem, he is the first person they call.

The world is full of Super Seniors, and we don’t hear enough about them. Lifescape is doing their part to change that. Really cool part of this event: every one of the 22 nominees received a U. S. Congressional Award, praising their volunteer efforts. Pretty impressive for a bunch of oldsters, don’t you think? These folks aren’t wandering around complaining about growing old; they are doing amazing things, like these award-winning volunteer seniors:

Shirley DeBenedetto from the Ethnic Heritage Museum;

Orlyn Huwe from Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity;

Edward M. Rounds from Wesley Willows; and

May Anne Doherty from Access Services.

Those four got the top awards, but every volunteer was celebrated that day. Oh, and let us not forget to thank Bergstrom Inc., SwedishAmerican Hospital, OSF St. Anthony, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the primary sponsors of this event.

In the end, most volunteers will say, “I get as much out of it as the people I help.” I know I do. But don’t trust them, or even me. Our government has done research on just this subject—check out their findings:

“The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research—Over the past two decades we have seen a growing body of research that indicates volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social benefits. This research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. Comparisons of the health benefits of volunteering for different age groups have also shown that older volunteers are the most likely to receive greater benefits from volunteering, whether because they are more likely to face higher incidence of illness or because volunteering provides them with physical and social activity and a sense of purpose at a time when their social roles are changing. Some of these findings also indicate that volunteers who devote a ‘considerable’ amount of time to volunteer activities (about 100 hours per year) are most likely to exhibit positive health outcomes.”

Hmm, that’s the secret…volunteering is good for us in our Second Half! And the longer we live, the bigger the benefits. I guess we need to be thankful for the opportunity to volunteer in our communities. Greater health, longer life, a more positive outlook—get up off your butts, geezers! It is an easy investment of just 100 hours (only eight-and-a-half hours a month)…recession-proof, too.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

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