Tag Archives: senior citizens

Jill Meyer Is Away For The Day

Fairfield County is filled with active, engaged senior citizens who love to go places: the theater, art galleries, museums and historical sites.

But they may not want — or be able — to navigate Grand Central or the streets of New York. And trains don’t go to places like Goodspeed Opera House.

So what can older folks do when they want to go away for the day?

They contact Away for the Day.

For the past 17 years, Jill Meyer has owned the company. She — well, buses she hires (and vans she drives) — takes area residents to New York, New Haven, Hartford, Boston and other interesting spots. They see Broadway shows, tour the Cloisters, enjoy boat rides, and do much, much more.

All they have to do is get to one of 5 pickup spots, from Stratford to Greenwich. The Westport meet-up is the I-95 Sherwood Island commuter lot.

Jill Meyer, during an Away for the Day lunch.

Meyer brings a varied background to her service. After moving to Westport in 1965 she taught English at Staples High School. She was mentored by “wonderful” instructors like Tony Arciola and Karl Decker.

Raising 3 children — Ben, Alexandra and Nicholas — brought her out of the classroom. She tutored for many years, then returned to the school system working with the gifted program (and its very gifted teacher, Annette Fournier).

Meyer also worked as an accountant for Nancy Strong’s fitness business; in children’s literature, and then for an eye care communications company.

When that firm moved out of the area, Meyer bought Away from the Day from its founder.

She was attracted by the opportunity to help seniors enjoy activities at a reasonable price. What she did not realize at the time was how important it was as a way for them to make new friends.

Away for the Day travels to the city …

Away for the Day attracts “intelligent, curious, well-educated, well-traveled and well-read” people, Meyer says. “They’re still curious about life and the world. They want to keep living. They don’t want to drive. But they love telling their grandchildren they’ve seen a show, or been to Hartford or Boston.”

Many are former teachers. Most are women.

“Occasionally we get men with their wives,” Meyer notes. “But my own husband finds it difficult to get on a bus with 50 women.”

(He did love “Jersey Boys.” And he just got back from what Meyer calls “a fantastic production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'”)

Away for the Day sponsors 2 or 3 trips a month. There are fewer in winter, due to weather.

… and the country.

Among the highlights starting in late February: “Sleeping Beauty” at Lincoln Center; the New Britain Museum of American Art; “Kiss Me, Kate” with Westport’s own Kelli O’Hara, and a historical tour of Providence.

Away for the Day occasionally goes away for 2 or 3 days — like an upcoming trip to Philadelphia and the Brandywine Valley.

For seniors who want to explore the world, the sky’s the limit.

Or at least anyplace Away for the Day can drive to.

(For more information, call 203-226-4310 or email jill@awayfortheday.net)

Senior Moments

Daylight Savings means several things:  Time to turn the clocks ahead.

Time to change smoke detector batteries.

In Westport, time for Staples seniors to change those batteries for senior citizens, as a public service.

And — at least as importantly — time to make human connections between high school seniors and demographic seniors.

This year’s event — part of Staples’ Senior Cares community service project — was a huge success.  To see how seriously the high schoolers took it, understand that more than 2 dozen of them got up — on a Sunday — at the ungodly-for-teenagers hour of 9 a.m.  (Really, it was 8 a.m. — Daylight Savings started that day.  Duh.)

Adam Yormark helped organized Staples Cares...

They met at Staples, got their assignments (plus t-shirts and breakfast — thanks, PTA!), and moved into action.

The action included changing clocks as well as smoke detectors, and attending to other small  tasks.  But this was one time when actions did not speak louder than words.  The students spent quality time at each house — while working, and afterward — talking, listening and connecting.

Junior Bieling was one of the hosts.  Over the course of nearly an hour he talked about his own time at Staples, many years ago.  He spoke with pride of not having missed a high school football or basketball game since 1947 or so — until this year, when illness kept him away.

At another stop an artist talked about her career.  When it was time to leave she gave Adam Yormark — the Senior Cares founder — a copy of one of her watercolors.

Adam created the project last spring.  Spurred by principal John Dodig’s request that juniorsreach out to the community, he recalled a recent visit to his grandmother in Florida.

Adam had done the usual things — moving furniture, pulling weeds — but had an “aha!” moment when he reset and hung a clock high up on a wall.  It was easy for him — but something his grandmother could not even attempt.

Adam got names of senior citizens through Town Hall.  He gathered friends, made a trial run, then got rolling for real.  The reaction of a woman with Parkinson’s — who was overcoming her illness with tenacity and grace — convinced him he was on to something important.

...and Freja Andrews, Gwen Moyer and Jenna Chusid all joined in.

Staples English teacher Dan Geraghty got involved when Dodig described his goal for the Class of 2011:  to develop a “legacy project” that would begin a new tradition for all senior classes.

“Through public service, students truly apply all of the core lessons they’ve learned about being a member of a community,” Geraghty says.

“Staples students care about the world beyond the walls of the school.  I am amazed by the students here — they are kind, confident, and ready to have a positive impact on their world.”

Sunday was a great display of the willingness with which Staples students give back to their community.

But, Geraghty says, “I think the senior citizens gave the volunteers so much more.”

(Staples participants included Freja Andrews, Andreas Bub, Jay  Cawley, Jenna Chusid, Francisco Delgado, Ben Freeman, Sabrina Friend, Madeline Gelfand, Ross Gordon, Augustine Gradoux-Matt, Emily Harris, Kelly Harris, Madison Kashetta, Ksenia Krichevsky, Farrel Levenson, Mario Lisanti, Eryn Lorberbaum, Perry Lorberbaum, Britt Mooney, Gwen Moyer, Andrew Myers, Caroline Nantz, Molly Rudinger, Jack Smith, Alex Soderstrom, Briyana Theodore and Adam Yormark.)

Driving Miss Daisy — Or You

It didn’t open with a burst of publicity.  You won’t see its logo emblazoned on vans or buses.

But in its own quiet, clever way, ITNCoastalCT is revolutionizing Westport in that most mundane, important area of suburban life: driving.

The concept is spectacularly simple:  People 60 or older (or those of any age with visual impairments) become members.  By establishing a prepaid account — think E-Z Pass — they have access to a ride, in a private car, anywhere in Westport, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, Fairfield and Easton.

Drivers take riders any place, for any reason. The service is available 24/7/365.  The cost of each ride is deducted from the account.

ITN started this past November, with a launch so soft most people have yet to hear about it.  “Slow but steady” is the philosophy.  (Sort of like the way seniors should drive, but sometimes don’t.)

The response has been “wonderful,” says ITN operations manager Nancy McCormick.

Among the most enthusiastic people:  adult children of older drivers.

“They worry about their parents driving,” Nancy says.  “So they set up accounts for their parents.  They don’t push it.  They just say, ‘It’s here for you if you need it.'”

Many seniors “self-limit” their driving, Nancy notes, not going out in snow, rain or after dark.  Around here, that’s very limiting.

“They don’t think they’ll use the account,” Nancy says.  “But then they have a doctor’s appointment or hair appointment, and it’s raining.  So they call us once.  And they like it so much, they use us again.”

Part of the appeal is that it’s not just door to door; it’s door through door.  And more:  “Arm-in-arm,” Nancy says.  “Drivers even carry packages.”

In just 3 months, there have been many success stories.  One woman used the service for a late-afternoon appointment.  A few days later, she had a stroke.  Now she uses it often.

A local man spends hours visiting his wife in a nursing home.  Sometimes, he says, chatting with the driver is his only adult conversation all day.

There are simple pleasures.  A woman describes the rides as “like being with a friend — not a taxi driver.”

Praise also comes from adult children of seniors.  One area family did not want their mother to stop driving — because they feared they’d end up driving her everywhere.  ITN has eased those worries — while easing the elderly woman out from behind the wheel.

Many senior citizens can drive. But many others may not want to.

“Older people are hesitant to ask their children, or friends, to drive them for ‘non-essential’ reasons — the beauty parlor, the library, exercise class,” Nancy says.  With ITN, they go wherever they want — whenever they want to.

On New Year’s Eve, ITN transported someone to dinner.  The rider had not gone out at night in 5 years, Nancy says, because she feared driving after dark.

One regular rider is a world-class athlete who still works out, Nancy says.  ITN also takes people to board of director and philanthropic foundation meetings.  A woman called for a ride (with her pooch) to dog obedience class.

The volunteer drivers — all of whom undergo criminal and background checks, plus training — love the program too.  They often tell Nancy how interesting and/or sweet their riders are.  “We didn’t realize this would be so rewarding for the drivers too,” she says.

Drivers — most of whom are between 45 and 60 years old — get free membership, and earn credits for their own future needs.  They can also apply credits to members of their own family.  Or they may donate them to low-income seniors.

Because ITNCoastal CT is part of a national network, riders can use their accounts with any of the 20 or so affiliates.  (Snowbirds, note:  There are 2 in Florida.)  Volunteer drivers may donate credits they accrue to parents or family members who live elsewhere too.

ITN even has a “CarTrade” program.  Seniors who no longer drive can trade their vehicle in for account miles.

You may not have heard of ITNCoastalCT — yet.  But if you’ve got an elderly parent; if you know someone who may be struggling with driving issues — or if you are ever going to get old yourself — you should remember the name.

(For more information on membership, ridership, volunteer opportunities or financial support, click here; call 203-858-2001, or email info@itncoastalct.org.)

Bike For Life

In her mid-50s, working in healthcare, Dorothy Fong saw the results of sedentary lifestyles.  Realizing she herself didn’t exercise, she began rollerskating.

She loved it — until she fell.

Dorothy Fong

Dorothy Fong

Bicycling offered a safer alternative.  Dorothy hadn’t ridden since she was 14, but picking it up again was as easy as riding a bike simple.

She joined a bike club near her Brooklyn home, and learned about new-fangled brakes, drop bars and other innovations.

“I was happy and passionate,” Dorothy recalls.  “It was fun and healthy.”  The simple act of pedaling outdoors — where every day is a different ride — felt exhilarating.

Dorothy bicycled in Mexico, Europe, New Zealand, and throughout the United States.   She moved here in 1998 to be near her son, and rides all around Westport.

Now Dorothy — 79 years young — hopes to ride with others.  Fellow seniors are perfect.

“I want people to be as happy as I am, doing something they may not even know they’d enjoy,” she says. “So many people used to ride bikes.  But we grew up, had less time, and put our bikes in the garage.”

She’s searching for folks with basic bicycling skills, a bike in good condition, and a helmet.  She puts herself in their shoes — perhaps a little rusty, unsure of traffic conditions and modern biking etiquette — and offers to help.

Dorothy looks forward to showing off safe, less traveled roads like Beachside Avenue (“very pretty, not hilly, not a lot of traffic, very comfortable”), and parts of Cross Highway, Routes 136 and 58.  The Compo Beach area is excellent too.

Dorothy and a friend posted flyers at the Senior Center, and around town.  No one called.

For a chance to get back in the driver’s — er, bicyclist’s — seat, while having fun, healthy exercise, call Dorothy at 203-856-8620.  Or email her:  dafong100@hotmail.com.