A Sense of Purpose: Coleen Riley

Get to know one of our dedicated Meals on Wheels Drivers: Coleen Riley.  For Coleen, her family is one of the most important aspects of her life and a driving factor behind her motivation & willingness to volunteer throughout the community.  Coleen initially began volunteering at her church for the neighborhood luncheons and at the food pantry.  She enjoyed the feeling of being able to prepare meals for individuals along with working with others & meeting new people from the community. 

She says "The feeling of satisfaction when we were told we had fed over 80 families...amazing!"

Coleen began volunteering with Southern Rhode Island Volunteers as a Meals on Wheels driver in September of 2017.   After she saw the budget cuts made to the program that would no longer allow for weekend deliveries, Coleen began to wonder how she could help. 

"I saw the post for the need for Meals on Wheels driver and well, I thought... if this isn’t a sign I don’t know what is!"
Coleen & Her daughter, Isabella.

Coleen & Her daughter, Isabella.

Her desire to volunteer ultimately stems from her family and the struggles they endured together.  In 2009, Coleen was diagnosed with breast cancer while her mother was battling Alzheimer's Disease.  In an instant, her family's life changed drastically.  They had no financial cushion which resulted in literally living on pennies.  However, even though she had lost everything, Coleen had her family. Because she had her mother and her daughter they made it TOGETHER! When her mother passed away in July of 2017, Coleen vowed to find a way to make a difference in the lives of elders.

"What is important NOW has nothing to do with material things.  What is important is utilizing the time I have left to making a difference."

Volunteering gives her such a sense of purpose and accomplishment that she even encourages her daughter and friends to lend a hand when they are on school breaks!

Coleen told us the story of a memorable experience she had with a woman who she delivers meals to in Narragansett.  Coleen lives in Warwick and when the woman found our that she travels from Warwick to Narragansett to deliver meals, the client questioned why she would drive so far to do this for them.  Coleen says, "I took a minute to gather my thoughts and answered, "I do it because I wasn't able to have these moments with my parents".  I went on to explain about my mother and how I enjoy Wednesdays "with mom" going to South County and down to the beaches that she loved.  I explained that it brought a bit of sunshine into my life after losing my mother.  I told her I consider it a privilege to be allowed into these people's lives and homes.  This wonderful woman was blown away by my reply.  She had tears, I had tears..."

Coleen has a large vision and several goals for giving back.  Meals on Wheels has allowed her to personally meet and assist some of our elders.  Her other goals include developing a program which would help families in need when a medical catastrophe hits and to volunteer for the American Cancer Society in any capacity so she can be there for those going through the same as she did.

For Coleen, volunteering with Meals on Wheels has been the best medicine for getting her life back on track.  She is a great example of how volunteering can change your life for the better!

Let Southern Rhode Island Volunteers Find You the Perfect Volunteer Opportunity to Fit Your Schedule! 

 

Paying it Forward: Kerry Strickland

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It Takes a Village

Kerry’s inspiration for volunteering began when she managed a local nonprofit organization.  The organization used SRIV to find volunteers for hands-on support.  She viewed those volunteers as role models and set volunteering as one of her retirement goals.

After retiring, she feared a decline in abilities so she ultimately chose to begin volunteering with Southern Rhode Island Volunteers.

Kerry has been a volunteer with SRIV since 2014 and has put several hours into driving local seniors to their medical appointments.  This is currently a critical need in our community and Kerry recognizes this, being one of the reasons she dedicates her time to local seniors.

As a senior herself, Kerry understands the realities that many people face as they age.

“Most of the people I drive have no other way to get to their necessary care.   Some are isolated, especially in the Western areas of South County.  Some are very lonely and longing for social contact”. 

Kerry referenced the old saying “It takes a village”, because it’s true.  SRIV wouldn't be able to provide all of our services without the help from the community and our dedicated volunteers.  Kerry says “It feels really good to be a part of the village”.

Paying it Forward

Kerry views this volunteer position as “paying it forward” because “we will all probably need this service eventually”. 

Kerry chooses to volunteer because “it feels good to be helping others, feeling useful, and you meet a lot of very nice people along the way”.

She often finds inspiration in the clients that she drives.  Kerry describes them as being "powers of example" when they are still vital in their 80's & 90's.  Last year she drove a 91 year old woman who was nearing the end of the estimated time she had due to battling a terminal cancer diagnosis.  She told Kerry her wish was to make it to her 92nd birthday, and as she was getting out of the car Kerry wished her luck.  Kerry says the woman "looked up at the sunshine, gave a beautiful smile and said, "Today is a beautiful day!". 

 If you are thinking about volunteering, Kerry encourages you to try it!  She gave herself six months to think about which area she wanted to help in and chose to drive seniors because “when I have to stop driving, it will be a freedom that I miss dearly." 

Let Southern Rhode Island Volunteers Find You the Perfect Volunteer Opportunity to Fit Your Schedule! 

Finding Flexibility in Volunteering: Peggy McLoughlin

Peggy was raised in Rhode Island, but lived in various locations as a teacher. Peggy and her husband missed the ocean and eventually decided to move back to raise their four children in Rhode island. Peggy is part of Southern rhode island volunteers' Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Peggy was raised in Rhode Island, but lived in various locations as a teacher. Peggy and her husband missed the ocean and eventually decided to move back to raise their four children in Rhode island. Peggy is part of Southern rhode island volunteers' Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

After working at the Monsignor Clarke School in Wakefield for 27 years, Peggy McLoughlin retired to spend more time with her family. Her strong belief in the Catholic principle of helping others has moved Peggy to continue giving back to those less fortunate in her community. Since retiring 15 years ago, Peggy has been driving seniors to their medical appointments and subbing in as a driver for Meals on Wheels through Southern Rhode Island Volunteers.

Since most of Peggy's children and grandchildren live out of state, she is often on the road. Finding a flexible volunteer opportunity was key.

“From my perspective having the flexibility to be able to say, ‘Gee I can’t do that transport, is important’” notes Peggy. “Different things come up in your life, at least for me, where I couldn’t devote a lot of time to volunteering. Flexibility worked for me. But it’s also necessary to have permanent people especially for Meals on Wheels.”

She advises prospective volunteers is to try a flexible opportunity first and see how it works out. If it is a positive experience Peggy suggests committing to a more formal schedule, if time allows.

Learning from others

Peggy transitioned from working with children to the opposite end of the spectrum - the aging population. These two groups are very different to work with Peggy notes, but admits it’s a lot easier to work with seniors than keeping up with the energy levels of second graders.

“You meet so many interesting people and sometimes get people to talk about what their lives have been like,” Peggy said. “It always amazes me when you get people who are 94 or 95 years old still living on their own and being pretty self sufficient. That’s pretty amazing to me.”

As a senior herself, Peggy knows the realities that many people face as they age, including isolation, physical limitations, plus trouble accessing food, financial and health resources.

“Volunteering has made me aware of how very fortunate I am in terms of still having good health at this age and how lucky I have been financially as well. So many of these people have a very difficult time,” said Peggy.

One of the biggest lessons she’s learned didn’t come from a classroom, but through the seniors she's met over the years. Despite some people’s misfortunes, Peggy notes that most individuals she drove over the past 15 years were very pleasant and thankful to be helped.

“They have taught me that you are so much better off to make the best of every situation you know just try to be an optimist. I think it’s those optimistic people who live longer really. Unless of course there is a major health issue.”

Volunteering goes both ways

Volunteering isn’t just a way to give back to your community.  Volunteering also helps you stay active and provides countless benefits for one's mind and body.

“From my perspective it keeps me active. I think that when you get into retirement it’s important to keep your mind active and your self active. Through volunteering, that’s one great way to help yourself as well as helping others.”

When Peggy isn’t spending time with her family, or volunteering, she enjoys quilting and gardening at home, despite claiming she does not have a “green thumb.” Peggy is also a busy member of the Social Outreach Committee for the Saint Francis of Assisi in Wakefield assisting with fundraisers and food drives.

Let Southern Rhode Island Volunteers Find You the Perfect Opportunity to Fit Your Schedule!

National Volunteer Week RSVP Spotlight: Jan and Earl Travers

Rhode Island natives Jan and Earl Travers help support their local seniors and adults with disabilities through a monthly small act of kindness.

Each customer receives one monthly supply of groceries to their home with the help of Southern Rhode Island Volunteers’ volunteers. Program participants either can't drive to the food pantry or don't have a friend, relative or caretaker to drive them.

Each customer receives one monthly supply of groceries to their home with the help of Southern Rhode Island Volunteers’ volunteers. Program participants either can't drive to the food pantry or don't have a friend, relative or caretaker to drive them.

The Travers deliver donated bags of groceries from the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale one Friday a month to 13 residents who can't easily access the resources to supplement a healthy diet. 

Through this program, a total of 51 Wakefield area residents are supported by their Rhode Island neighbors in their wish to age and live independently in their homes.

For RSVP volunteer Jan, giving back was always embedded in her being. From a young age Jan was taught the value of volunteering through her local church and joined the Masonic service organization the Rainbow Girls. In 2012, Jan joined Southern Rhode Island Volunteers delivering Jonnycake groceries with a fellow churchgoer at the Wakefield Baptist Church.

“When you’re going out and volunteering you may think that you're feeling bad but then you might see someone else and say, ‘Gee I’m doing okay,’” Jan said comparing her own fortunes in life to those who aren’t as fortunate.

Her husband of 45 years, Earl, balanced two jobs for most of his life, so he was only able to start volunteering in 2013 after he retired from his 43 year tenure at the University of Rhode Island working in the Controller’s Office.

Conveniently, this was during the time Jan delivered the groceries with a church friend. One day, Earl decided to tag along as the third wheel and help carry the food bags to the residents. Earl quickly realized the joy volunteering brought into his life. Shortly after he started, Earl became the permanent delivery partner alongside his wife when Jan's church friend took a job with the church.

Jan and Earl live with their two adopted dogs in Narragansett. They have been married for 45 years and have four children. Aside from volunteering and being involved with their local churches, the couple frequently heads up north to their second home in New Hampshire.

Jan and Earl live with their two adopted dogs in Narragansett. They have been married for 45 years and have four children. Aside from volunteering and being involved with their local churches, the couple frequently heads up north to their second home in New Hampshire.

“The people really are so appreciative. Some of them probably don’t have people to come see them, but they are happy to see us once a week,” Earl said. “I’m sure most of them have family, but they like to see other people too. They make you feel like you’re doing something good because they’re so appreciative.”

Volunteering for Earl has become a pleasant ritual, where he chats with the residents at each stop and does a quick wellness check to ensure the residents are doing okay and being treated fairly.

“See Jan and I got a routine down now. And she yells at me sometimes for talking too much...saying that we need to go to the next person...But I mean some of those people are lonely. They probably don’t have people going in to visit them often.”

For Jan the best thing about volunteering is just giving back, which is why she has always been involved with helping her community.

“I know what I have and you never know when you’re not going to have it. I might need somebody’s help one day.” Jan replied. “I guess the expression is ‘What goes around comes around?’ I just like to think that they’ll be people out there to help me if I need some help, so let me do it while I can.” 

For those interested in volunteering, but don’t know if it’s right for them, Earl and Jan suggest to just get out there and do it. Earl suggests shadowing an experienced volunteer to see if the opportunity is a good fit just like he did. Jan adds that it's a good way for a skeptical volunteer to talk with someone who really enjoys what they're doing and ask questions.

**Jan and Earl are part of SRIV's Retired Senior Volunteer Program. To learn more about the RSVP program click here