Older Americans Month is a time for connection

May is Older Americans Month, a time to recognize older Americans' contributions and reaffirm commitments to serving the older adults in our communities.

My heart is always uplifted when I hear about acts of kindness ordinary citizens bestow upon seniors.

As I was watching events unfold at Senior Concerns’ Caregiver Recognition Day last week, I received a phone call from my friend, Vince, an older adult himself.

He wanted to share with me his interaction with a woman he recently met at the doctor’s office. I will call her Alice.

Alice is wheelchair bound. Vince struck up a conversation with her and as the two began to talk, she relayed to him the challenges she had experienced traveling to the doctor’s office. She explained the process of scheduling and waiting for transport to come and the difficulty she had getting to the van because she did not have a ramp at her home.

As Vince listened, his eyes traveled to her wheelchair, and he noticed it was being held together by duct tape.

Wanting to help ease this woman’s burden, Vince got her telephone number and said he would be in touch. After a long phone call and a visit to her home, where they talked further, Vince sprang into action.

Little did Alice know, but she had met just the right person. It just so happens Vince belongs to a woodworking group, and he asked the group if they would be willing to make a ramp for Alice. “Of course,” they said, and quickly went to work.

Next Vince contacted The Joni and Friends International Disability Center in Agoura Hills and asked about a new wheelchair for Alice. They were very willing to help.

In a matter of a week, Alice had a new ramp, a new wheelchair and, most importantly, a new friend.

Earlier in my career when I was in sales, we had a star salesman. His name was Bob. My boss had a refrain he used with the rest of us all the time – B.L.B. or Be Like Bob. It was a simple message, but it motivated us to be the best salesperson we could be, because we wanted the boss to make that refrain ours, as in, Be Like Andrea.

So, I am asking, in honor Older Americans Month, would you be willing to B.L.V. or Be Like Vince?

The greatest gift Vince bestowed upon Alice wasn’t the ramp or the wheelchair, it was listening and caring.

As we go forward to Be Like Vince, one of the things to be careful about is the pitfall of making assumptions about what an older adult may want. Even when we come from a place of caring, it’s important to understand what that individual wants and what works best for them.

Not every good deed is wanted. Several years ago, a friend told me how she paid for lunch for an older woman sitting near her at a restaurant. When she was ready for her check, the waitress told the woman that her meal was paid for by my friend.  Expecting to hear a big thank you, my friend was surprised when the woman appeared insulted and said she had enough money to pay for her own lunch and did not need charity.

My friend and I had a good chuckle over that, but it really does demonstrate the need to truly connect with the person you want to help and to understand their needs and wishes. 

Older Americans Month is the perfect time to make a connection with those who came before us and built our community. Are you ready to Be Like Vince?

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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