By BILL ZAJAC
The first time I met Anna was when I arrived at her Brewster home to give her a ride to her doctor's office. Over the next several hours as I drove Anna to and from the medical appointment and spent way too much time in the waiting room, we would become each other's best friend for an afternoon.
I would learn about her two sons, who live in the South. After inquiring, Anna would tell me about growing up in German-occupied Holland during WWII. Anna would tell me about her her husband, who is mostly housebound with crippling physical problems as a result of a lifetime of physically demanding work as a solo commercial fisherman in Gloucester.
I would tell Anna about my family, especially my grandchildren.
I am a volunteer for Nauset Neighbors, an organization that strives to keep seniors in their homes and remain active.. Sometimes, as a volunteer, I am a driver to medical appointments. Sometimes, a handyman, doing simple chores like taking screens out of window, or replacing a fire alarm, screwing in a light bulb. Sometimes I bring someone grocery shopping or run an errand.
I taught one widower how to use the email on the computer he recently inherited after his brother's death..
One of my favorite clients is a 92-year-old cantankerous widower, who needs to collect his mail at the post office once a week and likes to stop at Wendy's for lunch every Friday. He thinks he keeps people at a safe emotional distance by impersonating Oscar The Grouch. But, who doesn't love Oscar the Grouch.
Many Nasuset Neighbor clients are seniors living alone without grown children nearby to help them. Some clients are tied to their home as they are the healthy spouse caring for an ailing one. Some volunteer assignments are social calls to shut-ins.
Nauset Neighbors, which serves Wellfleet, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans, Chatham and Brewster, is an all volunteer organization with 311 volunteers serving 247 clients. Another additional 40 people are on a client waiting list. They will start receiving help as soon as more volunteers join the organization.
"The number of seniors we can serve is limited only by the number of volunteers who join with us., " says Esther Elkin, a Wellfleet resident ,who, along with husband Dick Elkin and a handful of other members from the social group Nauset Newcomers, founded the organization in 2011.
I began as a volunteer shortly after my wife and I joined Nauset Newcomers in 2013.
In some ways I am a person least likely to be a volunteer. I am a 63-year-old stroke survivor, who, like many Nauset Neighbor clients, walks with a cane. When I had my stroke at age 55, I had to give up my drivers license as mandated by law. It took me about a year to earn it back. Fortunately when I had my stroke, I was very healthy and strong, having completed the Boston Marathon the previous nine years.
Having strong legs helped me progress quickly in physical therapy.
However, I would not have received the physical therapy I needed without a corps of family and friends driving me to the hospital everyday for several months.
I learned the value of being helped when in need. Now I am helping someone in need. And it is a terrific feeling.
One Nauset Neighbor client, Dina Harris, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, refers to Nauset Neighbor volunteers as "friendly, gracious superstars."
Very little is required of me to be a superstar, mostly just a willingness to drive somewhere, be friendly. and accept gratitude.
And I can pick and choose my assignments from Nauset Neighbors' online data base of client requests.
I don't have to commit to volunteering a certain number of hours per week. Some weeks I have as few as one assignment, other weeks I take on more. And there is no penalty for taking a vacation or heading south for a month in winter as I do.
Even superstars need vacations.
Bill Zajac is an Eastham resident. Cape Codder 4/10/15
To become a volunteer with Nauset Neighbors, go to www.nausetneighbors.org.