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Senior Corps-RSVP members in their 90s prove you’re never too old

2017 May 2
by HandsOn Suburban Chicago

Seniors who have reached the 90-plus mark may not be able to do as much as they did in their 70s or 80s but that doesn’t mean they’ve outgrown their usefulness. Better yet, those who continue to volunteer still feel loved and appreciated. Anyone who meets and speaks with Grace Fiebig, Lorraine Tancredi or LaVerne Pecka will come away inspired, thinking, “They’ve kept themselves younger simply by using their energies toward helping others, in senior centers, hospitals and wherever else the need arises.

Grace Fiebig has served at countless functions put on by the Arlington Heights Senior Center. Staff members at the center can’t imagine how they would have managed without her.

Grace Fiebig is 97 years old. In good weather, she grabs her walker and strolls to the Arlington Heights Senior Center, about four blocks from her first floor apartment. About once a month, she volunteers at the Senior Center, whenever they need help sending out bulk mailings. When asked what keeps her going, she answered with one word, “Stubbornness.”

For the past 25 years, Grace has served in many capacities as a Senior Corps-RSVP volunteer. She’s painted homes during the annual Community Paint-A-Thon, assisted at blood drives, helped numerous nonprofit organizations, including our own, HandsOn Suburban Chicago, with bulk mailings, served at her church’s welcome brunches and is on the advisory committee at the Senior Center. Along with other committee members, she attends performer auditions to check out entertainment for senior programs.

Grace enjoys volunteering so much that she often recruits others to join her. “My neighbor told everyone, ‘Grace got me out of my rocking chair.'”

Since the day she came to the Senior Corps-RSVP program years ago and offered her services, her philosophy has always been “It’s payback time.” But the rewards are there too. When asked if there are any days when she thinks, “I don’t want to do this. Why did I sign up?” she says no. She loves meeting people and enjoys getting out of the house, which she will do until physically unable.

Karen Hanson, manager at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, recalls the time Grace came to help when the RTA’s “Seniors Ride Free” service was launched. Grace personally processed 850 people, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, for five days.

“The center could not exist without people like Grace,” Karen said.

Lorraine Tancredi, Senior Corps-RSVP member and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital volunteer for 30 years

Lorraine Tancredi, 94 year-old Senior Corps-RSVP member for over 30 years, started volunteering in 1985 before she retired from teaching to get a feel for the volunteering experience. She began in the flower shop at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital because she “wanted to learn about flower arranging and bouquets.”

Later, she switched to doing clerical work in several different departments at the hospital. Today she volunteers once every two weeks, putting together charts for the nurses in the pre-surgical department. She finds this a good outlet for meeting other people and, at the same time, giving back.

“When you get older, you lose so many friends,” she said. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I try to get out and I find it’s a good thing to meet a variety of ages. I listen when others talk about their life, their grandchildren. It keeps you more alive.”

On days when she’s not quite in the mood for working, she stops and thinks about how pleasant her co-workers are and the good she’s doing. That’s enough to get her “perked up.”

Magda Scanlan, the manager of volunteer services at Advocate Lutheran General, praises Lorraine for her dedication, but most of all, for her kindness and consideration. “Lorraine is our volunteer who always sends thank-you notes to the office expressing her appreciation for…gifts or events. It sure puts a smile on our faces!”

LaVerne Pecka enjoying National Volunteer week this past April.

From 5:00 am to noon twice a week, 92-year-old Senior Corps-RSVP member LaVerne Pecka can be seen at the main information desk at Advocate Lutheran General and is often the first person a patient meets when arriving for surgery in the early morning. LaVerne knows they’re nervous and, as Magda says, “She’s there rain, snow or shine and always with a kind word and smile.”

Prior to that, LaVerne served as one of many, much-appreciated hospital wheelchair operators. “That’s how I learned where things were,” she said.

LaVerne is grateful she is still able to drive and often helps others in the building where she lives by shopping or running errands. It’s another way to meet neighbors and keep in touch.

In addition to the inspiration they provide, there’s a common thread to these stories: Although these women are well into their 90s, they defy the image of older seniors who may suffer from loneliness, depression or feel they can no longer function because of health issues.

They’ve learned that offering themselves, where needed, offers, in turn, friendships and a sense of purpose. In terms of health and abilities, they pace themselves, knowing that they can still serve in smaller capacities. And yet, they are still appreciated by those they work with, no matter how often, whether it’s once a week or once a month.

By Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member

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