Mission Memphis Day 19: Meritan

The Experience

Grandma Ginny and Grandpa Bob

I wish you could meet my grandparents. They are some of the most incredible people I have ever known. They built their house themselves and even rebuilt it after it caught fire. Every detail of their home was carefully planned out: my Grandpa Bob’s workshop was meticulous and my Grandma Ginny put a large wall mirror in the middle of the living room. My Dad grew up in that house and we spent a lot of time there as kids.

My Grandma Ginny is in her 80s but you’d never know it! She has a diet and exercise routine that puts me to shame: baked chicken and steamed broccoli, water aerobics 3 days a week and last year she did the “Miracle Mile” in St Louis – a one mile race for seniors. She sends me pictures and text messages from her iPhone (when she can find the time). She’s incredibly smart, bright and loving. Even when I was a kid I remember thinking how clever she was and how much cooler she was than everyone else’s grandma.

Grandpa Bob and the hope chest he built for me

My Grandpa Bob has always been the guy you call when you need something. Broken water heater? No problem. Roof to replace? On it. Something to build? Even better. A day sitting still was a day wasted. I have always thought that my grandpa could do just about anything. He has always jumped at the chance to do something for others, especially when they weren’t able to do it for themselves. Once when I was in high school, I was so sick that I could hardly move and my 75 year old grandfather carried me up the stairs.

When I was young we moved away from St Louis and only got to visit once or twice a year. My brother and sister and I would clamor out of the car, scramble over one another, and race into the house for big hugs. My mom used to apologize to my grandmother because we would put our hands all over the giant mirror in their front room. I later learned that my grandmother would intentionally clean around the handprints so she could look at them until our next visit. Each time we left, my grandparents would come out the driveway and wave goodbye until we were out of sight. A couple years ago, my grandfather built hope chests for my sister and me. I asked him to sign the inside, which he initially protested saying, “What would you want me to do that for?” With help from Grandma and my parents, he finally signed the lids and event consented to a picture on the driveway. Three years ago, I took this picture of my Grandma Bob on the driveway. And three years ago, I saw my grandparents wave goodbye from the driveway for the last time.

Shortly after that visit, my grandfather had stroke. One of the strongest men I’ve ever known was suddenly in need of help and care. In short, my grandparents were no longer able to stay in the home that they built because the demands of his care and keeping up with the house were ultimately too much. I tell you this because you’ll need this back story in order to understand the full range of emotions I felt on my last volunteer experience.

Meritan welcomes Sarah Petschonek

When I initially talked with Meritan about including them in my project, I didn’t realize how much it would make me think about my grandparents. While they offer many programs and services, one of their main focuses is helping seniors stay in their homes for as long as possible. When I arrived at the Meritan headquarters on Monday morning, I was blown away to see that Lee Warren had gone out of his way to make me feel welcome!

Of their many programs, I volunteered with Silver Bells, which is an opportunity to adopt a senior for Christmas. I select silver bells for a married couple named Cathy and Dale, but when I looked at the bells, I was surprised to see that the very short list included cleaning supplies. As I looked at the tree, I noticed that most bells had similar requests – cleaning supplies, paper towels, and lightbulbs topped the list. This surprised me a little bit, so I asked Sheila Williams and Elise Bone at Meritan these gift lists.

They explained that the seniors they serve are low income on very tight budgets and they have to decide each month how they will spend their limited funds. Sometimes the decision comes down to electricity or cleaning supplies. Which would you choose? This realized made me feel sad, grateful, and motivated all at the same time. I picked several items off the list and then we went to deliver them.

Asking Dale to draw Kilroy

When we pulled up to the house, Dale was waiting outside in his wheelchair and had clearly been waiting for company. As I walked up the ramp Dale yelled, “What are you doing here? Dinner’s not ready yet!” His wife Cathy laughed from inside the house as he led us into their home. They were both thrilled to have company and told stories about their kids, grandkids, and how they met. I told them about my family and my Grandma Ginny and Grandpa Bob.

Kilroy was here – courtesy of Dale

Cathy mentioned that Dale likes to draw “Kilroy was here” pictures, which I had never heard of. I flipped to clean page in my notebook and handed it to Dale and he obligingly drew the picture. They were grateful for the gifts, but seemed happiest to have company more than anything else. When I asked about Meritan Cathy gushed about how wonderful they are: “If it weren’t for Meritan, Dale and I would be in separate nursing homes.”

Cathy and me

After many stories and several hugs it was time to leave. At one point Cathy took both of my hands in hers, which caught me off guard. She looked at me very intently and told me how much she loved my project about volunteering. I smiled and nodded politely, which was apparently insufficient! Cathy pumped my hands up and down for emphasis and told me again how important it was to volunteer and how much she enjoyed talking with me. I gave her a big hug.

Dale and Cathy followed us to the door and then out onto the front porch. Walking to my car, I realized that I was sad to leave. I sat in my car for a minute as the others drove away.

As I turned to leave and as I drove off, I looked back at the house to reflect on my visit. As I left, I realized that Dale was waving goodbye from the driveway. The tears came instantly.

How to Help

If you are lucky enough to have wonderful grandparents in your life, go hug them right now!

There are many ways to help Meritan ensure that Memphis area seniors can stay in their homes.

Volunteer. You can sign up as a Homemaker, where you assist with daily living activities like light housekeeping and trips to the grocery store. There are other volunteer opportunities on a case by case basis. For the most up to date information, check their Facebook page.

Adopt a Silver Bell. Contact Sheila Williams sheilawilliams@meritan.org or 901-766-0623 to adopt a senior or make a donation to this wonderful program.

Donate. Every little bit helps. Ask about how little it would cost to supply a senior with cleaning supplies for a full year.

If you’re thinking about volunteering with this organization or in general, but aren’t quite ready to jump in, email me at sarah.petschonek@gmail.com. Thinking about helping is the first step!


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1 Response to Mission Memphis Day 19: Meritan

  1. Lee Warren says:

    Thanks for sharing your time with us Sarah. You are undertaking an incredible project and your service to this community by highlighting the health and social service programs here at Meritan, (as well as those of the other not-for-profit services throughout the community) is to be lauded. Thank you so much for showcasing the important work we do at Meritan everyday to renew self-worth and independence. Much continued sccess!

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