Profiles in Caring

So many seniors do good deeds — we recognize a few of them

“Everybody’s got a little angel operating in them . . . Surely you know that.”

— Bing Crosby in the 1954 movie

“White Christmas”

It’s easy to be cynical, even at this time of year when we’re all supposed to be thinking happy thoughts. But luckily, there are people who quietly do good on a regular basis, with results that can ripple far beyond their original target.

Here are profiles of some Granite State seniors whose volunteer work benefits us all, whether we are located directly in their target zone or are an ocean away.

The Healer

Imagine that you are a nursing home patient. It’s just another day, and all is quiet — until a Shetland pony enters your room. That’s just what happened to a nursing home resident in Manchester that Susan Higgins visited with Felipe, a trained pony. “This gentleman had been quite depressed,” Higgins says. But when he saw Felipe, “he had the biggest smile on his face, he was so animated. The nurse said, ‘He hasn’t smiled in weeks. He’s been totally unengaged, he hasn’t said anything.’ [Felipe’s] visit made his day,” Higgins says.

Higgins, a Manchester resident, volunteers with multiple groups including Personal Ponies, through which she helps share Felipe with school children, hospice patients and nursing home residents. She also helps out at UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center in Goffstown, teaching therapeutic horseback riding to special needs children who have emotional or physical impairments.

The riding program provides physical therapy as it requires students to work their muscles, but also engages the students on an emotional level. “For the first time in their lives, [the children] have some sense of control. They tell the horse when to go, when to stop. They have total power for the first time ever,” Higgins says.

And, “it’s hugely rewarding” for volunteers such as herself, she says.

The Serendipitous Ambassador

Kathleen Hurlburt of North Hampton doesn’t go around looking for volunteer opportunities, she says, but they seem to find her. Helping children in an African orphanage was a recent opportunity that she just couldn’t pass up.

Hurlburt, a retired home economics teacher, heard about the 120 children through her son, Chris, who is in the military and currently stationed in Rwanda. When Hurlburt learned that the children needed clothing, she set to work organizing a clothing drive, asking for donations through a notice in her church’s weekly bulletin. “Mounds of clothing” came pouring in, she says. With help from the church pastor, staff, parishioners and neighbors eager to do something for the children, Hurlburt shipped close to 350 pounds of clothing to the orphans, with more boxes still waiting to be mailed as of this writing.

“I never dreamed that I’d be doing this,” Hurlburt says. “It just kind of found us.” People’s generosity and willingness to help are “very, very heartwarming,” she says, and many ask if the effort to help the orphans will go on. “If there is a need, we will continue,” Hurlburt says. “There’s no question.”

The Sparkplug

Leo B. Glasheen Jr. volunteers for three different groups, yet still seems to have energy to spare. As a Granite State Ambassador, Glasheen helps man the information booths that are scattered throughout the state, welcoming visitors to what he calls “the best kept secret” that is New Hampshire. The retired New Hampton resident also volunteers for Breathe New Hampshire and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).

The memory of an asthmatic sister prompted Glasheen to participate in his first Breathe New Hampshire Seacoast Bike Tour 15 years ago. He rides his bike in the two-day tour each year, pedaling his way around a 100-mile route. “The ride is pretty easy,” he says, noting that he could do all 100 in a day. At age 75, Glasheen is the tour’s oldest rider and largest fundraiser.

Glasheen also brings his considerable passion to SCORE, resurrecting its now-flourishing Laconia chapter, which had dissolved decades ago. (When he first started the Lakes Region office, Glasheen says, “I put a mirror in the office so I didn’t feel so alone.”) SCORE provides free business workshops and mentoring, linking retired executives with business owners and entrepreneurs seeking advice.

Glasheen often draws three interrelated rings when advising SCORE clients, he says. One circle symbolizes skills, knowledge and talent, one represents passion and energy, and the third has a dollar sign on it. For himself at this point in his life, though, Glasheen says that third circle does not represent money but gratification — his reward as a volunteer. He helps enable many a success story, he says, which is something that never gets old.

The Coach

Through his work as a physical education teacher at Exeter High School and as an ice hockey and soccer coach, Jim Tufts has touched thousands of lives and witnessed many personal moments of struggle and triumph, but some of his most inspiring experiences have stemmed from his 21 years of volunteer work with the Special Olympics.

Tufts was first introduced to the Special Olympics in 1970 by his mother, Jean, when she founded the New Hampshire chapter of the Special Olympics. Many years later, Tufts again found himself drawn into the Special Olympics world when his son, Matthew, was born with disabilities.

While training Seacoast-area Special Olympians each year, Tufts relies on a group of volunteer helpers: Exeter High School students. About 40 high schoolers guide the athletes through twice-weekly training sessions and accompany their assigned athlete to competition events.

Involvement with the Special Olympics has a lasting effect on the athletes, who cherish the camaraderie, and on the high school students, Tufts says, prompting some of them to pursue careers as elementary or special education teachers.

As for himself, Tufts says, “I’m just the organizer.” But, he adds, “this is one of the most satisfying things I do. I love all my teams,” but with the Special Olympics, “the special athletes get to be real athletes. They get to compete in soccer and track just the same way that my regular athletes do.” Plus, he says, the whole experience is just plain fun. “At the end of our competitions in June we have a get-together just the same way that any team would, with cupcakes and drinks — a party to celebrate our season. It’s just the same way.” NH

Categories: Health & Wellness