Friday, February 20, 2015

Client Profile: Rose Braun

Farm Work to City Life

Rose holds up a photograph featuring [almost] all of 
the 17 members of her immediate family!
Rose Braun is an 88-year-old regular Volunteer Transportation client.  It is easy to see that her current life in Shoreline is a far cry from her youth in North Dakota.

Rose grew up on a farm during the Great Depression in a family of fifteen children (not including one who died of Scarlett Fever) without running water, irrigation, or electricity.  Their home included many features of this traditional lifestyle, yet it was equipped for North Dakota’s extreme seasons.  They had an outhouse; an old-fashioned, non-electric washing machine; windmills; rain barrels for collecting water; a root cellar; a smokehouse that converted to an ice house with the use of ice cut out of frozen rivers and insulation provided by straw; and a sleigh that converted to a wagon. They had a “summer house” for butchering, canning, and hot cooking in warmer months and a rope that guided them to the well for water during winter blizzards.  There was never a dull moment in such a household!

Pictures from Rose's childhood: the family's
 threshing machine, farmhouse, and summer house
Rose and her fourteen siblings developed a strong work ethic at an early age.  The girls of her family were born first (Rose was the sixth child), and they worked long days in the fields with tasks like binding and threshing before milking the cows and completing household chores.  She remembers times when the family had company, which meant that they started cooking at 2:00AM and stayed up late into the night washing dishes.  When they were older, Rose and her sisters all found work outside of the home to pay their way through high school, making $1 per month.  They didn't take anything for granted.

Rose reports that she never felt deprived during her formative years.  “There were really bad days and really good days,” she explains.  It was just a different way of life.
Rose's parents

Rose seized an opportunity to move to the Pacific Northwest in 1952 but brought her hardworking farm girl outlook with her.  She got a job at Boeing, raised a family, and ran her own house cleaning operation for 21 years.  The fieldwork of her youth caused her to need both knees replaced in 1994, and she survived breast cancer several years ago.  When her husband, Al, became ill and lost his vision, Rose learned to drive in her late 70’s.  She provided his transportation to local appointments until he passed away in 2009.

As a new driver, Rose never felt comfortable driving freeways.  She and Al both initially registered for the Volunteer Transportation program in 2002, and she continues to rely on the program’s volunteer drivers to get to regular appointments with the eye doctor.  She really appreciates the service.  She says, “I’m so glad to have you guys!”

Volunteer drivers love meeting Rose and talking with her during rides.  She has strong memories of her early days and exudes an inspiring spirit of vivacity.  Although a lot has changed in her life over the years, Rose clearly still has her North Dakota-born strength and determination.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Small World Story

An Unexpected Ride with a Relative

Volunteer driver, Louise Mnich
“You just never know who you might meet on a volunteer ride!” says Volunteer Transportation driver Louise Mnich.  She has given many rides since she joined the program’s volunteer force in September 2013 and met many amazing seniors along the way.   But there is one client who stands out above the others.  That person is Virginia Hamilton.

Like Louise, Virginia loves Volunteer Transportation and has had countless memorable rides since she became a client in 2011.  She regularly praises all of the program’s volunteer drivers and often calls them her “angels.”  Yet, the fateful ride that she recently received from Louise was different from all the rest.  In fact, the 96-year-old describes the day Louise took her to Seattle’s PacMed Clinic from her home in Bellevue as one of the best days of her life!

The ride started out like any other, and Virginia could quickly tell that she liked Louise.  They had so much in common; they shared many of the same interests (they even liked the same radio talk show host); and they talked as if they’d known each other for years.  The tone of the conversation changed drastically, though, when Louise recognized some of the names Virginia mentioned.  Louise asked, “Are you related to Larry Hamilton?”

Larry Hamilton was her mother’s cousin.  He survived the Bataan Death March and became a POW at the Cabanatuan Camp, where he was later shipped to Manchuria, China.  He completed manual labor as a Japanese POW in Manchuria for 43 months and lived to tell harrowing tales of survival.  After the war, he spent several weeks with Louise’s grandmother (Larry’s aunt) in LA after being released from a military hospital in San Francisco, and Louise met him much later as a teenager growing up in Southern California.  Larry was a true inspiration to her… and he was also Virginia’s late husband!

“Talk about serendipity!” Louise exclaims as she recounts their conversation.  She and Virginia compared notes about their family (including times that they’d possibly met in the past) and rehashed all of Larry’s war stories.  Virginia was surprised at how much Louise knew about her deceased husband, and she was able to fill in some of the gaps.

Louise writes, “Meeting Larry as a teenager made a lasting impression on me.  He told one touching story about a Japanese doctor at a POW camp in Manchuria.  Larry was seriously ill with spinal meningitis.   At great risk to himself, the Japanese doctor obtained and administered medicine to Larry, which saved his life.”  This real-life parable demonstrated that goodness can be found in all people, even during situations that bring out the worst of them, and it had always stuck with Louise as one of life’s most important lessons.  Virginia was able to update the story: She and Larry later returned to Japan and, remarkably, found that same Japanese doctor!  They were able to throw him a party and thank him for saving Larry’s life.
An image from the Bataan Death March

Louise and Virginia also reflected about Larry’s time in the Bataan Death March.  Virginia described how he was able to stay alive because of the survival skills he’d acquired as a Boy Scout in Arizona, helping him to conserve resources.  Larry’s ordeal had often crossed Louise’s mind.  She explains, “When I was in the Navy, I was stationed in the Philippines and got to see where the last of the American forces fought on Corregidor, the roadways used during the Bataan Death March, and the first Philippine POW camp.  It was moving for me to think I had a relative who lived through all of that.  Unfortunately, Larry died while I was living in the Philippines, so I was never able to share my later experiences with him.”  Spending time with Virginia allowed Louise to explain her own emotional connection to Larry’s arduous journey.

When Virginia reached the clinic, her blood pressure was lower than it has been in years.  “It was because of happiness!” she states.  “Being so happy made me healthier.”

Both Louise and Virginia report that they are thrilled to have found one another, and they are currently working to restore old family ties.  Louise says, “Virginia is an interesting woman in her own right, and I look forward to getting to know her better and learn about her life as well.”

We often use the tagline “Rides change lives,” and this statement rings true for both Louise Mnich and Virginia Hamilton.  A seemingly ordinary trip to the doctor had extraordinary implications for both of them, transforming their lives in a profoundly meaningful way.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Client profile: Wasyl Fedorowicz

Kindness and Resilience amidst Adversity:
The Story of Wasyl Fedorowicz
Wasyl rides the Hyde Shuttles three times per week and is a 
regular client of Volunteer Transportation.

Wasyl  Fedorowicz is a survivor.  Like many Ukrainians, his life was molded by dark events of Eastern Europe’s long history of conflict.  There are memories so upsetting he buried them deep into his subconscious and experiences so traumatizing they caused him years of PTSD-induced nightmares.   His story, like that of his homeland, contains underlying currents of cruelty, suffering and injustice.  But it is also marked by great kindness.  Interwoven through Wasyl’s tales of fear, powerlessness and hardship is the strong theme of compassion.

War shaped much of Wasyl’s journey.  He was born in 1923 in a small Ukrainian village under Polish control.  At a young age, he was recruited to serve as a courier to an underground organization against the Soviet Union-- delivering messages in the cold and darkness of stormy nights.  World War II broke out when he was 16.  The Germans soon invaded his country and sent him to a forced labor camp in Germany at age 19.  He never saw his parents alive again.   He spent the next 7 years of his life, even after the end of WWII in 1945, in German camps.  He moved to the United States as a displaced person in 1949 and wasn’t able to visit his village again until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Wasyl vividly recalls times when brave, kind people saved his life.  Once, his boss’ daughter intervened as angry members of Hitler’s loyal SS Corps were ready to shoot him.  One grabbed Wasyl’s hat and pulled it down so forcefully that it covered his face.  With gentle grace, the young German woman reminded the belligerent militants that Wasyl and his friends were hard workers contributing to the war effort. They left him alone.

Another time, an English officer interviewed Wasyl to assign him his respective ethnic camp.  Wasyl proudly announced that he was Ukrainian.  The officer would not have it.  He asserted, “You are NOT Ukrainian; you are Polish!”  It wasn’t until later that Wasyl realized the official’s intent: While the Ukrainian camp would have placed him in unendurable conditions, placement in a Polish camp gave him opportunity.  He remembers saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the caring officer.

Wasyl’s stories of more recent years have a very different tone, but they continue to include examples of selfless acts in the midst of challenging circumstances.  He provided many years of tender care for his wife, Helen, as she adjusted to life after a knee replacement, a broken hip and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.   But it soon became too much for him to manage.  They eventually relocated to Seattle to be near family, and Helen moved to a skilled nursing facility.

Wasyl now relies on Senior Services’ Transportation Program to visit his wife as frequently as he can.  Volunteer Transportation drivers pick him up, take him to the nursing home, and allow him to spend quality time with Helen.  He is very grateful for the service.  He recently reported with great excitement that he had witnessed Helen taking small, precarious steps with the assistance of a walker and the help of the facility’s medical staff.  It meant a lot for him to witness her progress.  His wife isn’t the same person that she used to be, but he is still there for her—unfaltering in his love and devotion.

He also uses the Hyde Shuttles to get to the Central Area Senior Center three times per week.  The socialization and community found at the Senior Center are important for Wasyl’s overall wellbeing.

The volunteer drivers who take Wasyl to his meaningful visits to his wife, the Hyde Shuttle drivers who provide him with transportation to invigorating activities and his friends at the Senior Center may not ever learn of the difficult past he has overcome.   Yet, they offer him support and companionship without expecting anything in return.  Wasyl’s life is full of many contrasting stories, juxtaposing dehumanizing instances of oppression with poignant moments of humanity.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Scheduler Ride Along

Donald Benedict, Lead Transportation Coordinator, has worked for Volunteer Transportation for 16 years (and Senior Services for 24 years).  On a normal weekday, he can be found answering phone lines, contacting volunteers, taking down ride requests, and completing all of the necessary work to ensure that King County seniors get the valuable transportation they need.  He recently had the rare opportunity, however, to escape from the confines of the office and tag along with Lynne McCaslin (volunteer driver) and Janine Parks (regular Volunteer Transportation client) as they completed the typical ride routine.  

Donald enjoyed his Ride Along experience.   He loved how naturally Lynne and Janine interacted with one another and gained even more respect for our volunteer drivers!  It was a great reminder of why he and the other Transportation Coordinators work so hard to make rides happen-- week after week, year after year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Everything!

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
~H. Jackson Brown Jr.

 Our office has been flooded with lovely cards, boxes of chocolates, and handwritten notes from clients and volunteers this holiday season.  These thoughtful gestures remind us that the messages of love, happiness, compassion, and peace of this special time of year are ones that our volunteers work hard to instill in our programs every day.  No carefully wrapped packages are necessary; they bring joy into the lives of seniors by giving the gift of their time.  
Once again, 85-year-old Meyer Caplan sent us creative drawings and humorous quips of holiday cheer!

Whatever your faith background, we wish you happy holidays from all of us at Senior Services’ Transportation Program! The holiday season is made much brighter by your resounding spirit of generosity. 
Friday, December 19, 2014

Honoring a Legacy of Volunteer Driving

Deeon has provided countless rides over the years.

The year is 1984.  A gallon of gas costs $1.10; movie tickets are $2.50; and the average price of a new home is $86,000.  Ghostbusters is the popular film of the day, and Miami Vice catches national interest as a captivating new crime drama series.  Concurrently, Deeon Kuspert, a Renton resident, discovers the Volunteer Transportation as a meaningful to way to spend her time now that all of her children are in school. 

Deeon receives her prestigious Presidential Lifetime Achievement
Award from Paula Houston (Senior Services' CEO) and Cindy
 Zwart (Transportation Program Director).
Flash forward to 2014.  Gas, movie tickets, and homes cost a great deal more; many films and television programs have come and gone; and Deeon’s children are all grown up.  But Deeon is still serving as volunteer driver!

Deeon was honored for her 30 years of service at the Transportation Program’s Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon in December 2014.  She was presented with an impressive Lifetime Achievement Award signed by President Barack Obama, as well as a lovely car charm made by Tiffany & Co., in recognition of her sustained commitment to civic participation.  She also received a standing ovation by all those in attendance, many of whom were so moved by the tribute that they had tears in their eyes.
The audience rises to its feet to applaud Deeon's years of service.

Deeon is humble when asked about her volunteer experience.  She reports that she was very surprised by the accolades presented to her in December, and that volunteering is just a way of life for her.   She says, “I enjoy meeting all of the people I drive.  They so appreciate the program.”  She also gives credit to the Volunteer Transportation staff for making her volunteer work so effortless.  She adds, “It’s such a well-run program, and it gets better all the time!” 

A lot may have changed since 1984, but Deeon’s profound and positive impact remains the same.  Service is clearly an integral of her identity, and she continues to touch lives with her kindness and generosity.  Our community is a more humane and better place to live because of volunteers like Deeon.

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon

Our 2014 Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon took place at the Golf Club at Newcastle on December 9.  As usual, it was a lovely gathering of our wonderful volunteer drivers, filled to the brim with positive energy and gratitude.
Perhaps the best overview of the event can be found in the speech given by Cindy Zwart, Transportation Program Director.  Her words reflect the true meaning of the festive occasion:

“...All of us in the Transportation Program look forward to this luncheon because it gives us the opportunity to personally thank our volunteer drivers for everything you’ve done the past year and also to recognize those drivers celebrating milestone anniversaries with the program.  I know that most of you don’t expect any thanks for what you do, but it’s important to Senior Services to be able to let you know how much you mean to our program’s success. 
People in the community are amazed not only when I tell them how many drivers we have volunteering for our program – we have 826 drivers on the books including volunteer drivers with our community partners – but people are also amazed how long our volunteers stay with the program.  Today we will be recognizing drivers celebrating five years with our program, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, and one driver who has been driving with us for thirty years!”
Although not all of them were able to attend the luncheon, we'd like to congratulate the following volunteer drivers for reaching milestone anniversaries in 2014:
  • 5-year drivers: Nancy Gerard, Bob Roby, Sean Ward, Thomas Morio, Calvin Wang, Steve DeHaven, Donald Campbell, Fred Johnson, Meg Swimelar, Michael Schmidt, James Owen, Scott Eliason, Doris Jones, Rick Rice, Joyce Rice, Sara Croft, Claudia Sewell, Ronald Vandenberg, Carol Godding, Mary Ann Quinn, Susan Heffernan, Michael Lofstedt, Grant Colyer, Monique Ming Laven, Phil Coulson
  • 10-year drivers: Diana Kordus, Margie Pasero, Richard Nikolaisen, Lynne McCaslin, Push Patel, Mary Paulson, Shaila Gadre, Joe Merrill, Ruth Mynar, Maria Joao Galvao, John Davis
  • Douglas Matthews
  • 15-year drivers: Tom Brown, Patsy Giboney, Bob Knudson
  • 20-year driver: Dwight Binge
  • 25-year drivers: Al Hillstrom, Kathe Kern, Jack Langlais
  • 30-year driver: Deeon Kuspert (MORE ABOUT DEEON WILL BE FEATURED IN AN UPCOMING BLOG POST.  Be on the lookout for it next week!)

5-year drivers as they receive their Frango Chocolates
10-year drivers as they receive their certificates and Godiva chocolates*
15-year driver and "Shining Star" recipient, Patsy Giboney, with Senior Services' CEO, Paula Houston*
25-year drivers as they listen to Cindy's stories about their years of service
and receive engraved Barone Crystal gifts*

The sun even came out to honor our volunteers and provide them with this spectacular view of Seattle off in the distance!
Cindy concluded her remarks with the following statement, "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:  'Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.'

And so all of us at Senior Services are grateful to be here today to thank you for your service to our agency, our clients and our community, for your grace and love in action.”

Let us remember these inspiring words throughout the year and keep them with us until next year's luncheon!

*Photo credit: Bryan Ilyankoff



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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news, and updates about Senior Services’ Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients, and staff!
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