May is Older Americans Month. This year’s theme, “Make Your Mark,” celebrates the countless contributions that older adults make in their communities. It highlights the difference everyone can make – in the lives of older adults, in support of caregivers, and to strengthen communities.
The following are stories of just a few Lower Shore residents who have made a difference in their communities.
Dan Savoy: Making his mark on the community
Dan Savoy makes his community a better place to live.
An educator and education administrator (now retired), a champion for older Americans and those less fortunate, and an advocate for the environment, the 75-year-old Salisbury resident is making his mark on his community.
“One of my great loves is the environment,” said Savoy, who serves on the board of the Wicomico Environmental Trust.
He’s also a Creekwatcher, helping to monitor the health of the Wicomico River, taking water samples, checking water temperature and noting the clarity of the water.
“I remember when we could swim in Leonards Mill Pond, Schumaker and other swimming holes” on the Shore, he said.
“We’ve lost a lot of lakes and ponds due to polluted runoff,” he said. “We want to monitor and improve the quality of the water. Then maybe one day we will be back to where locals can swim in some of these swimming holes.
“We have a long way to go. Each person needs to realize that we have a stake in improving the environment. It is not always someone else,” he said. “That someone has to start with me.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to leave a better place for our children,” said Savoy, father of 2 and grandfather to 3.
Leaving the world a better place is a sentiment that drives his other volunteer activities as well.
A champion for older adults on the Shore, he is a member of the MAC Board of Directors and serves as its treasurer.
“I love the many things MAC does to make the community a better place for older adults,” said Savoy.
“We know that aging in place is the best thing that can happen for older Americans. There is no place like home,” he said, adding that so many MAC programs focus on just that – helping older Americans to age in place, to live out their lives in the home of their choice.
Savoy also served two terms on the Wicomico County Commission on Aging, including a term as chairman; and volunteers for Wicomico Habitat for Humanity.
“So many have contributed to the successes I have had in my life. Many folks have had a great deal of faith in me,” he said. “I want to carry that caring attitude to others.”
Carol Steffy and the Spirit of Esther
Esther Moore loved visitors, especially during the last year of her life when she resided in a nursing home.
When Moore died in 2010, her daughter, Carol Steffy of Salisbury had the perfect way to honor her memory.
The Spirit of Esther Fund was born.
“She was in a nursing home the last year of her life, getting more disabled. But her mind still worked and she loved visitors,” said Steffy, who is 76.
The Spirit of Esther provides funds to area nonprofit organizations “to go into nursing homes and interact with the residents, to bring them cheer and joy and normalcy, and a relationship with another human being,” Steffy said.
Activities have included luncheons and bingo games, and visitors from Pets on Wheels Delmarva and the Salisbury Zoological Park.
“Visitors bring so much pleasure to folks who live in nursing homes,” she said. “I know it brought great joy to my mother.”
“If you keep moving and keep talking and stay active, the more active you will stay. Mom could not walk anymore but she was actively involved,” she said.
Nursing homes are now closed to visitors, due to the COVID-19 crisis, and Spirit of Esther activities have been suspended for now. But Steffy is confident the program will return.
“I know there will be new rules. But we will find a new way to spread cheer to nursing home residents,” she said.
The Spirit of Esther will live on.
Barbara Ross: Offering Peace of Mind
Many seniors live alone, but thanks to volunteers like Barbara Ross, they aren’t alone.
Every week she calls 10 area older women, all are shut-ins and live alone. Ross is a friendly voice, calling to check on their well-being and letting them know that someone cares.
It is all part of the Telephone Reassurance Program at MAC.
In the event a phone call goes unanswered, the volunteer then calls the designated emergency contact, and even the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office if needed, to check on the senior’s well-being.
“I love doing this,” Ross said. “What touches me is if I don’t call them at a certain time, they will call me and ask if I’m OK. I’m supposed to be checking on them, and they’re checking on me.”
In this time of the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing, staying connected has never been more important. Older adults in particular are at a higher risk of isolation, loneliness and increased frail health. For those seniors living alone confusion, fear and depression can lead to even higher health and fall risks.
“Most of them are home alone most of the time; many don’t drive,” she said.
“I will call and ask if they are getting out of the house for food, how they are doing. I can pick up if they are lonely and just need to talk. I’m happy to spend a few extra minutes talking to them,” Ross said.
“There is a real need. They need someone. I look at myself at age 72. None of us know what we will have to go through later in life. I might need someone to check on me,” Ross said. “The phone calls make them feel less alone. I’m happy I can do that,” she said.
Rotary Club of Salisbury: Delivering More than a Meal
“Is there something else we can do?”
Ace Parker of Salisbury asked that question 20 years ago. At the time he was in charge of the Rotary Club of Salisbury’s Committee for the Aged; the group made an annual donation to a local retirement home.
That “something else” turned out to be recruiting Rotary members to deliver Meals on Wheels for MAC, Inc.
Two decades later, many thousand meals have been delivered to area seniors, along with a friendly visit and a safety check.
The club regularly supplies the manpower for an entire home-delivered meal route, taking nutritious food to area seniors four days per week.
Parker, age 90, continues to be the driving force behind this volunteer effort, recruiting and scheduling members for meal deliveries.
“Initially, I had a hard time getting people to (volunteer); they were apprehensive. But once they went, word got out about what a great feeling it was to deliver meals to the seniors.”
It didn’t take long for volunteers to realize the deliveries were about so much more than food, Parker said.
“The most important is talking with the people. Sometimes we are the only people they see that day,” he said.
Parker regularly organizes parties and other events to thank the volunteers for their dedication, and heads to his workshop to craft each one a special token of appreciation from wood.
Parker and his wife, Ann, are members of St. Philips Episcopal Church in Quantico, where they have organized church volunteers to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors on Wicomico’s West Side. That’s a 70-mile round trip each week.
Rotary activities have been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis, with MAC drivers handling deliveries along that route for now.
“We will be back,” Parker said.
Kelsie Mattox: Family Tradition
Kelsie Mattox tirelessly logs many hours each week, devoting her time to many groups and activities that make her community a better place.
It is a labor of love for the 77-year-old Hebron resident; it is continuing her family’s longstanding tradition of community involvement.
Her work touches all ages, and takes many forms: from advocating for older Americans and promoting education and political involvement, to teaching first aid and health classes at area churches.
Mattox is active with Foster Grandparents and her sorority; she’s a member of the walk committee for the Alzheimer’s Association of the Eastern Shore, and serves with the Democratic Club of Wicomico and the NAACP.
At the county level, she is a member of the Wicomico County Commission on Aging, the Complete Census Count Committee, and the Wicomico County Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board.
“There is a saying: to whom much is given, much is expected,” Mattox said. “I believe I owe things to my community. As John Kennedy said, I don’t just ask what my country can do for me, but ask what I can do for my country.”
“This community is dear to me,” she added.
The COVID-19 crisis has not slowed her down. She uses Zoom from home to connect to about 4-5 meetings each week.
Mattox hopes her legacy will be that of “a good role model, that I helped other people accomplish what they want in life,” she said.
Samuel Chase DAR: One Mask at a Time
Members of the Samuel Chase Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, are working to protect their community, one mask at a time.
Members have spent many hours hunched over sewing machines since March, making fabric face masks – more than 2,600 of them.
The chapter has donated masks to several area hospitals and nursing homes, small businesses and to MAC, Inc. the Area Agency on Aging. Masks also have been sent as far as Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C.
It has been a collective effort by the chapter to produce the masks and donate them to various areas of need in the community, and beyond, said Dotty Semotchko, 66, regent of the Samuel Chase Chapter.
About a dozen members have been involved with the actual sewing; those who don’t sew have donated materials. Chapter members range in age from 30s up to Baby Boomers
Wearing the fabric masks provide some benefits in slowing the spread of COVID-19, according to medical officials.
“We are just trying to help the community,” Semotchko said. “I’m proud of what our chapter is doing.”
“We have a certain amount of comfort knowing that perhaps in some fashion we are helping a loved one, a friend or neighbor from contracting the virus,” she said. “In some way we are helping to protect our community and the people we love and care for. It’s a great feeling!”
Every day, the contributions of older Americans make our communities a better place to live, for all ages.
Older Americans are volunteers, mentors and role models; they provide care for grandchildren spouses and friends. Their time, experience, and talents benefit family, peers, and neighbors every day.
May is recognized as Older Americans Month each year, but the invaluable contributions of seniors are worth celebrating every day.