As Diana Siano and Pickie Rosemond Harvey-Smith made their way through The Village at Waveny Care Center on a recent afternoon, they catch sight of handsome Harry Sharlach. “Harry! Oh Harry!” They swoon. Sharlach turns but it is too late: He vanishes into a cloud of kisses.
Both Siano and Sharlach are part of a vast network of volunteers that bolsters the day-to-day care at Waveny LifeCare Network, where Harvey-Smith resides. Siano, recently retired from a career in global sales, serves as a cashier, receptionist, baker, transporter and companion. Sharlach, a Shih Tzu, serves as a therapist and has amassed more than 500 visits over the course of his career in pet therapy.
Waveny’s complex web of more than 100 monthly volunteers is managed by a director of volunteers, who is dedicated to recruiting, training and retaining them. Recognizing the critical role this position plays in the function of the Waveny volunteer program, the family of Lois Anderson, a New Canaan resident and lifelong volunteer who passed away in 2017, gave a $750,000 gift ensuring its permanence.
“Volunteerism is great, but it doesn’t happen by magic,” said Sue Anderson, Lois Anderson’s daughter, who is offering an additional $25,000 challenge gift to bring the total gift to $800,000. “You have to work at it to make it a good volunteer program. Waveny works at it.”
It’s no accident that volunteerism is at the heart of the Lois Anderson gift: She left a mark on the town through years of volunteerism. She helped start Meals on Wheels, which is now housed at Waveny Care Center. Her husband chaired the original board of the New Canaan Inn, now part of Waveny LifeCare Network. As members of the Congregational Church, the couple volunteered at Waveny’s weekly afternoon socials serving as cocktail companions and dance partners to the residents. Lois dedicated much of her life to supporting seniors in the community. She chaired a local panel on aging and counseled seniors on their complex Medicare insurance policies.
When she herself became a senior, Lois relied on the very same services she had once delivered.
“When my mom was at Waveny, she would be having a down day and a dog would walk in and she would light up, or a friendly face would come in to visit and the cheer would change her mood entirely. The volunteers brought such a needed escape to her during the end of her life,” Sue Anderson said. “We could really see the volunteer program and how important it was to the mental health of the people who were there. That she was a volunteer and then a recipient of volunteerism there just made it the perfect fit for a legacy gift.”
A lifelong volunteer herself, Sue Anderson said she recognizes the potential deception of volunteerism.
“People often ask me why money would be needed for a volunteer program. But the coordination of volunteers is dependent on organization, relationships and structure,” she said. “You have to have the systems in place to make the volunteer experience a really positive one. When it is done right, it benefits the larger community because volunteers will do it again and again and again.”
Though the director of volunteers position at Waveny is not new, it is now secure.
“We love the idea of having something permanent in the volunteer program that also connects us to Lois forever. It really is a perfect fit,” said Vice President of Development Cynthia Gorey. “The gift is also a town-wide celebration of volunteerism. We are the largest ‘employer’ of volunteers in town. Our volunteers demonstrate the true selfless giving of time. They don’t have to do it, and we are so fortunate to be part of a community made of of people who do do it. Now Sue’s challenge gift creates yet another opportunity for the community to celebrate volunteerism.”
The role of director of volunteers is filled by Stella Clarke. She, therefore, manages Siano and Sharlach and the hundreds of others who donate their time. In the first two months of 2018, 222 individuals volunteers gave 576 hours of time to Waveny.
“There is a lot of activity that needs management. I am in touch with every single one of them regularly.,” she said. “I need to be in order to know them, to orientate them for quality and safety reasons but also so I can balance the interests of the individual with those of the organization.”
As Siano sees it, Clarke is the perfect person to fill the role.
“I was feeling a void, I really wanted to do something for the community” she said of her post retirement experience. “I met Stella, and everything fell into place for me. I love it here. I really believe the people I meet while volunteering are giving more to me than I am giving to them. It really means a lot.”
Siano, in turn, is the perfect volunteer.
“Diana’s fantastic,” said Pickie, who Siano accompanies to social events regularly. “I fell in love with her immediately. She makes every day better. I really mean that.”
With bingo calling, Sharlach eventually emerged from the puffery and Siano and Pickie continue on their way. “You’re a wizard, Sharlach,” Pickie said as she heads for an afternoon of gaming over tea and cookies amid the drift of live music, all courtesy of the Waveny volunteers.
Waveny has raised $21,000 toward Sue Anderson’s $25,000 challenge. To help Waveny maximize this offer, please contact Cynthia Gorey by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 203-594-5446.