By Cindy Flachmeier
For FLORIDA TODAY
A recent FLORIDA TODAY headline read, “A small gift can make a big difference.”
From personal experience, I know that’s an understatement.
For the past two Christmas seasons, I have seen the deep personal impact that small gifts made on lonely seniors in Brevard. The gifts were purchased with generous contributions from people like you to the Reaching Out Holiday Fund. Through a partnership between FLORIDA TODAY and Aging Matters of Brevard, your donations were used to buy handpicked gifts that the recipients had on their wish list.
These seniors are your nextdoor neighbor, your elementary school teacher, or maybe the man next to you at church. They are parents, grandparents and great-grands. The commonality is that many seniors are alone, isolated due to poor health and have outlived many or all of their friends and family. Who better to touch with a loving gift?
My involvement in senior gifting began in 2011 with a phone call from a FLORIDA TODAY editor, inquiring about whether Aging Matters in Brevard would be interested in partnering with the newspaper for the Reaching Out project if it were expanded to include seniors as well as thousands of children.
With a quick “Yes, we are interested,” and after a year of planning, the 2013 distribution of nearly 2,000 gifts went off without a hitch. Gifts were distributed from Mims to Micco to seniors at home and at play. This second year, we upped the ante to 2,200 gifts.
The gifts have been distributed for the past few weeks to individual homes, at the Sunflower House and at 11 Seniors at Lunch sites throughout the county.
At the Martin Andersen Senior Center in Rockledge, this past week, a group of seniors attended a Seniors at Lunch program to enjoy good food, visit with friends and celebrate at the annual holiday party.
I had the privilege of attending the party and watching 25 seniors eat a delicious meal and impatiently wait for everyone to finish eating so they could open their gifts. As their gifts were distributed, I quickly found out that seniors shake boxes, pull off wrapping paper, toss out bows and open their gifts with the gusto of their youth. They opened boxes and gift bags hiding slippers, cuddly throws, stamps, pajamas and darling Christmas stockings with gifts inside. The mood was festive and everyone loved their gifts.
I find the most heartwarming aspect of this project is receiving thank-you notes after the gift delivery. I want to share these notes and stories so you can meet the folks benefiting from your donations.
“Thank you so much for my wonderful Christmas gifts, the pink sweat shirt is so great. Just what I wanted. So warm and soft. The hand lotion is so much appreciated and needed. Thank you.”
A 90-year-old husband and his 85-year-old wife who receive Meals on Wheels both completed Reaching Out wish lists. Unbeknownst to each other, instead of asking for a gift for themselves, they each had the perfect gift for the other.
Often a request is made for a small gift for their pet: “The ‘kids’ loved their treats — another unexpected surprise to have the ‘kids’ get gifts since they are my family! The holidays are more pleasant when you are remembered. Thank you.” This note was accompanied with a photo of the “kids,” two cute Pomeranians.
“Before things went from bad to worse in these past couple years, I was the one always willing to help wherever and whenever I could. There was no better joy in my life, than to give of myself. To do for those who could not go it alone. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been on the other end of the stick. I am so grateful for the gifts you gave me. For you and your families, I wish you all the best in the coming New Year.”
“Thank you for the beautiful robe, it will keep me warm in the cold months to come. Your gift was such a surprise, the first Christmas gift I have received in 20 years. Thank you for remembering me.”
I always feel a twinge of sadness and happiness when I read these notes. They remind me of how precious our lives are and how we must remember to care for one another.
As we put away our holiday wrappings, I would be remiss if I neglected to say thank you to the people who made this project possible.
To our volunteer project leaders, a giant hug and thank you to Kim Rodriguez and Merrell Shye. I want to give a special thank you to the elves from McGladrey, FLORIDA TODAY and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program for hours of gift wrapping.
Thank you to the Aging Matters staff who coordinated home deliveries. And there would have been no deliveries without our tireless 600-plus volunteers, whose only complaint was that we did not give them enough work.
No matter what age we are, there is always magic in the air during the holiday season. Thank you to each and every one who played a part in this holiday magic.
Thank you, FLORIDA TODAY, for caring about our precious children and older adults. Thank you to the Brevard community who have generously donated to the Reaching Out Holiday Fund. And for those of you who want to donate, there is still time!
Volunteers and FLORIDA TODAY employees wrap packages for seniors at the Aging Matters in Brevard offices in Cocoa.
CRAIG BAILEY/FLORIDA TODAY
At McGladrey, they take a special approach to giving back to the communities where they work and live. It’s what they call “McGladrey Social Responsibility.” Established in 2010, McGladrey Volunteer Day represents their commitment to the communities where they work and live. On Thursday, November 6, McGladrey employees across the nation stepped out to help non-profits.
In Brevard County that meant, about 30 volunteers helped prepare meals at the Brevard Community Kitchen, wrapped holiday presents, delivered meals to homebound seniors, or visited with a senior at a Seniors At Lunch site. The seniors loved seeing this group of enthusiastic volunteers, all wearing bright green McGladrey t-shirts, coming down their walkways to deliver a meal or into their Seniors At Lunch sites for a visit.
Aging Matters in Brevard would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to the employees of McGladrey for their day of service!
Thank you to the Riverview Pilot Club of Titusville who recently held a “Roast, Boast ‘n’ Toast Brevard County Commissioner Robin Fisher” to benefit Aging Matters in Brevard.
Making a difference in Brevard County
More than 60 FLORIDA TODAY employees, friends and families fanned out across Brevard County Saturday, October 25, 2014 in conjunction with Aging Matters in Brevard, to deliver meals to about 270 clients as part of Make a Difference Day.
by Britt Kennerly, October 29, 2014
One woman introduced me to her tiny dog, Jojo, who kissed me on the nose.
My husband fixed the blinds on the back of a door at one house in Cocoa, while at another home, a bubbly lady gave me a fresh serving of her sweet potato pie.
It was Make a Difference Day. I hope that in some small way we did, as Doug and I joined other FLORIDA TODAY employees and families in support of Meals on Wheels. Employees had overwhelmingly voted to deliver meals to homebound seniors in conjunction with United Way and Aging Matters of Brevard.
It was a first-time volunteer experience for many, especially children. Eye-opening for adults, those who seldom see homes of those outside their worlds or how some seniors struggle to maintain their independence.
Best, 275 people who don’t normally get meals on a Saturday — and might not have a visitor besides their Meals on Wheels delivery person during the week — got not only food, but affirmation that they matter.
“Based on my experience, and the feedback I’ve received from our staff, seeing firsthand the appreciation from the seniors receiving the meals made the day extremely rewarding,” said Jeff Kiel, FLORIDA TODAY publisher.
It served as a reminder that you can make a difference every day. Thousands of Brevard residents do just that in every aspect of life — at schools. Hospitals. Community centers, libraries and so many other places.
If you’re up for a worthwhile challenge:
• Volunteer. 2-1-1 Brevard can help you match your skills to an opportunity. Or contact United Way for opportunities to pitch in.
• Donate to one of United Way’s partner agencies, whose services range from advocacy for children to housing for the homeless.
• Speak up. Let elected officials know if you’re unhappy with the direction they take.
Last year, federal budget cuts sliced $122,000 from the Aging Matters budget. The agency had to shutter two Seniors at Lunch sites, part of the program that feeds locals older than 60. And for a brief time, no new clients could sign up for Meals on Wheels, through which volunteers deliver between 700 and 800 meals five days a week. What kind of message does that send about priorities? The wrong one.
• Reach out if you’re in need yourself: Friends and relatives can learn from your example.
For example, getting a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels, or at one of Brevard’s 11 Seniors at Lunch sites, is not a handout. Too often, seniors won’t ask for help, especially those who are fiercely independent and view any assistance as welfare.
• Reach out through social media and spread the word about how we live here on the Space Coast. If you haven’t started using Facebook or Twitter and can do it, consider it. Share messages about what’s important to you. Be persistent.
Most importantly? If you want to reach out, reach within first.
Take a good look at where you are in life. Make a few phone calls. Discover how your skills and passions can change someone else’s life: They can.
You’ll find any day is the right day to start.
When Cindy Flachmeier, the president and CEO of Aging Matters, learned that Fisher was doing this for her organization, she was thrilled not only for the money it will raise but also for the publicity it will spread about the organization. “I often think that the people in Titusville, myself being one of them, don’t realize how many services are going into the Titusville area,” she said. “We, as an organization, want to make sure that people in different communities know that we are there, that we have a presence.”
Marcia Newell talks about sold out event Roast, Boast ‘n Toast to roast Commissioner Robin Fisher. This is the first such fundraiser sponsored by the Riverview Pilot Club in Titusville, benefiting Aging Matters. Video by Tim Shortt. Posted 9/24/14.
Aging Matters celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It began as a planning organization through United Way and is now the largest-funded United Way agency in the area. The organization has an annual budget of $6 million, employs 130 people and serves about 5,400 people a year. Money comes from federal, state and county grants and from direct donations. Its services include Meals on Wheels, which serves about 800 people every day. It also offers senior lunches at 11 sites throughout Brevard. The seniors are given door-to-door bus transportation through SCAT. The lunches also provide a hot meal, exercise, bingo and other socialization opportunities. Aging Matters’ in-home services include installing grab bars, minor repairs, bathing, cleaning and more. It is all part of the organization’s goal of letting seniors remaining in their homes.
Friday’s event is the first fundraiser for the relatively new Pilot Club chapter, said president, Marcia Newell. “We were trying to think of ideas,” she said. Members came up with “roasting” Robin Fisher because he is a “star of the county,” Newell said. It also helped that Newell is Fisher’s legislative aide.
While he supports many causes, Aging Matters is especially meaningful to Fisher,because his grandmother has Alzheimer’s, she said. Parrish Medical Center is the title sponsor of “Roast, Boast ‘n’ Toast.” Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey will be the master of ceremonies and many speakers will share funny stories about Fisher.
Once the event was announced, tickets began selling faster than they expected. The event is sold out. “It grew bigger than us,” Newell said. “We are squeezing people in and people are still trying to get tickets. We knew it would be a good fundraiser. I don’t think we realized how large it would get.”
Contact Harbaugh at 321-242-3717, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/pharb.
Grandparents Day is wonderful opportunity to honor the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. This day was set aside as a National holiday in 1979 for the purpose of honoring all grandparents, allowing grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help grandchildren become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer. Grandparents are children’s connection to family culture, family traditions, and historical events during their lifetime.
“Grandparents help save taxpayers an estimated $6.5 Billion by raising their grandchildren and keeping them out of foster homes.”
Excerpt from Generations United GU.org
GRANDParenting Again, a service of Aging Matters in Brevard, supports grandparents 55 or older who have given up their retirement or their own plans in order to take on everything that comes along with raising their minor grandchildren by offering support groups, enrichment opportunities, parenting guidance, care management, referrals to available community resources, educational presentations, and counseling.
On Saturday, September 6, 2014, Aging Matters in Brevard celebrated Grandparents Day by honoring these special grandparents with a dinner and recognition awards for their continued service to the next generation!
Aging Matters in Brevard celebrated their most recent “Centenarian,” Rita Anderson on August 27. Rita’s three daughters, Rita, Roberta, and Patricia, joined the festivities where she enjoyed a lunch provided by Seniors At Lunch (a service of Aging Matters in Brevard), live music, birthday cake, a special dedication, being serenaded by a friend, and much more. Fun was had by all!!
Parrish Medical Center employees and their families delivered almost 100 meals to home bound seniors on Saturday, August 9, 2014 in North Brevard County. Aging Matters in Brevard says, “THANK YOU” Parrish Medical Center!
Congratulations to Aging Matters in Brevard employee and Gold Medalist, Michael Walker! Michael’s softball team claimed the gold medal on Thursday, June 19, at the 2014 Special Olympics, held in Princeton, New Jersey.