By Eric Wilson-Edge
Some people never truly retire. These people occupy themselves with projects, hobbies or volunteer work. Panorama residents Jay Felzien and Ann Berry are part of this last category. The retirees spend a significant amount of their free time giving back. Their reasons are different but the results are the same.
Jay Felzien Returns Help
Jay Felzien’s decision to volunteer is very personal. In 1983 Felzien’s partner was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. “I couldn’t take time off,” says Felzien. “There was an organization called Visiting Nurses and they’d go once a day to make sure he had something to eat and see that he was okay.”
Felzien’s partner died four months later. The experience taught him some valuable lessons that he still carries with him today. “I was really grateful for all the help I’d gotten,” says Felzien. “I remember how lost I was when my partner was dying and I didn’t like the idea of anyone having to go through that.”
Not too long ago Felzien got a call from one of his neighbors at Panorama. The woman knew about Felzien’s volunteer work at the hospice. She wondered if he could come over and talk with her husband. “She told me that he was afraid of dying,” says Felzien. Jay talked with the man, offered reassurance that everything would be okay. “The next day he was completely different.”
Comfort is a large part of what Felzien provides. Sometimes he reads books to clients, plays chess or goes on a walk. In the process he builds relationships with his clients and their families. “I meet a lot of very interesting people that I wouldn’t meet otherwise,” says Felzien. “Their defenses are down, they’re just a real person.”
Ann Berry’s Work at the Crisis Clinic
Ann Berry listened to the recruiter’s talk. Afterwards she told her professor she was going to be a diplomat. “He looked at me and said ‘I didn’t pass and you won’t either.’” Needless to say Berry took the Foreign Service Exam, passed and spent most of her life as a diplomat.
Berry moved to Olympia in 1999. In preparation for her retirement Berry did some reading. She came across an article in the Olympian about a training program being offered by the Crisis Clinic of Thurston and Mason Counties. “I became addicted to the Crisis Clinic and have been there ever since.”
In 15 years Berry has done everything from answer phones to provide training to new volunteers. She and a small group of others helped keep the clinic afloat in the late 2000s following a split with Behavioral Health Resources. “There are a lot of organizations that make Olympia a jewel and we think the Crisis Clinic is one of those,” says Berry.
The work is challenging and rewarding. “It is intense,” says Berry. “We’ve had a number of calls with suicidal thoughts and that’s pretty tough stuff.” Berry’s training and her relationship with fellow volunteers make it possible for her to help others. “Your partner is there to talk with after a difficult call to hear what your feelings are.”
Berry says she continues to volunteer, partially because of what the work does for her. “I am amazed by what I have learned about myself. I never do a shift where I don’t come away saying ‘wow, that’s really amazing.’”
The spirit of volunteerism is big at Panorama. Some seniors help with programs within the retirement community while others, like Felzien and Berry, offer assistance elsewhere. Either way the results are a better, more connected community.