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April 24, 2015

Honoring Our Volunteers: Jarret and Brian

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our wonderful volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members!  For the past few Fridays in April, we featured a number of extraordinary volunteers. Today, we would like to honor two long-time volunteers Jarret and Brian. They have both been with our Friendly Volunteer program since 2008 and 2009, respectively. Learn why they volunteer below!

Friendly Visitor: Jarret Wolfman

Bills2
Fred and his Friendly Visitor, Jarret

How long have you volunteered at SAGE?
I had to have someone check the records, but I met Fred and Stephen at a Friendly Visitor picnic in October of 2008 -- so I’m going on seven years now!

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?
During orientation we're instructed to let our friends at home kind of lead the way. Some people want to watch TV with their Friendly Visitor or play cards or go for a walk. It just depends on what they like to do. My guys love to just sit around and talk. So for the most part I just sit there and listen. Sometimes we go for dinner or I go to church functions with them (pancake Tuesdays have become an annual tradition), we go to book fairs and the garden party. I also help Fred organize his apartment and I help him with his computer. My husband and I even had them over for Thanksgiving one year!

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
Oy, that's a hard one. I’m not really good at saying good things about myself. I would say that one thing that I think is helpful as a Friendly Visitor is my ability to empathize. Sometimes that can be a detriment, but in this case it's useful because as a Friendly Visitor you really have to be sensitive to your friend at home's needs, wants, moods, eccentricities, etc. While great friendships can develop over time (I've come to love Fred and Stephen as if they were part of my family - I call them my gay grandpas), we as volunteers are primarily there to be of service to our friends at home.

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
This is actually the first time I've volunteered for anything in my life. I had thought about it for a while but I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do and I kind of felt guilty that there was a part of me that wanted to volunteer because I thought it might make me feel better about myself. Luckily, someone convinced me that there were worse things than "selfishly" volunteering. At least (hopefully) I would be giving back as much as I was getting. And I have to say that there is nothing I've ever done that has made me feel more fulfilled in my life.

What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far?
I would have to say that it's a toss-up between being a part of their wedding a couple months after it finally became legal in New York state and their 50th anniversary (of meeting) dinner party in 2013. Both were really special experiences.

Bills
Fred & Stephen Celebrating!


Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer?
Of course! I’m always telling people to join up! It’s not always easy but it's extremely rewarding.

Anything else you would like to share?
I would like to talk a little bit about Fred and Stephen. Normally, Friendly Visitors are paired with a single friend at home. I mean, that's kind of the point of the program. To provide LGBT seniors that may have trouble getting out to a SAGE Center or other opportunities to socialize, with some companionship. So when I was matched with Fred I wasn't really expecting to end up with two friends at home. While Stephen isn't "officially" a part of the Friendly Visitors program, he and Fred have basically become a package deal and I can't imagine it any other way. Although inevitably one of them will die before the other and that's something we've talked about. I’ve always thought that I was pretty lucky because both of them are healthy and I haven't had to deal with some of the more difficult issues that many other Friendly Visitors have had to deal with regarding their friends at home. Knowing that I’ll be around to help one of my gay grandpas deal with the loss of the other is both scary and comforting. I just felt like you needed to know a little about them to really appreciate what it is that I do. Cause in the end, it's not really about me, it’s about them.

Friendly Visitor: Brian Donnelly

Brian and Mort and MarleneHow long have you volunteered at SAGE?
Michele D'Amato matched me with Mort Silk in August of 2009, soon after my Friendly Visitor training.

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?I've been visiting Mort once a week since that August of 2009! I mostly sit and talk with Mort about current events in the news, my work, issues in education (he was a teacher and assistant principal), happenings in our lives, theater experiences, and our pasts - family, friends, schooling, pivotal experiences in our lives, etc. 

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
My greatest strength? I try to be a good listener, and I try not to share my day-to-day frustrations at work and in my personal life or bring it into our space/time together. There are times when I may share some personal struggle I am experiencing, but I do that to seek advice. Mort's a very good listener and has enormous reserves of empathy. I think that being consistent and reliable in my visits is another strength. My colleagues at work, my partner, family members, and friends know of my commitment to my regular time with Mort, so I so very rarely need to reschedule a visit with him. When I travel out of town, I try to call and send a fun postcard. 

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
Being a Friendly Visitor reminds me that I have the capacity to make room in my busy life to commit to something important on a regular basis. I feel good about that. Oftentimes, I know my time with Mort is the most important 3 hours of my week - again, for me, maybe sometimes for him. I'm no longer a volunteer because we're simply friends at his point.

What has been your best experience as a Friendly Visitor so far?
I can't pinpoint my best experience so far, but I get a kick out of him asking me to reread a passage from an article, like a theater review in the Times. He enjoys words, the way that people use words to express something interesting, funny, or profound. He'll re-experience a passage, in the way a child returns to the line of a roller-coaster after experiencing a thrilling ride. I love that smile on his face when he hears that passage again. Simple joys.

Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer?
I certainly recommend this experience to others. I am still learning and growing as a result of my relationship with my 93-year old friend, Mort.

Are you interested in being a Friendly Visitor? Contact Matilde Busana for more information at mbusana@sageusa.org.

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