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Partnership for Healthy Aging

The following article is from the Southern Maine Agency on Aging Senior News, July-August 2010. It was written by staff member Denny Dreher, who also serves as a Matter of Balance Master Trainer.

New Retirees "Sing the Praises" of Volunteering
By Denny Dreher, Southern Maine Agency on Aging Healthy Aging Programs

Humorous stories, jokes and cartoons poke fun at the challenges and transitions couples experience at various stages of their relationship and retirement. You know: he's off playing golf with the guys and she's playing bridge with the 'girls', or perhaps they are "beaching it" in Florida while the snow flies in the north. Brian and Meredith Thomas definitely do not fall into any such categories! A first impression is that they are too young to be retired. Both are delightfully open with a warm sense of humor that accompanies their discussion of their lives and retirement activities. One senses a couple comfortably in touch with the people and environment around them as well as each other and who are both modest about their achievements and willing to experiment with what life offers. And they are delighted with life's offering to volunteer as coaches for the "A Matter of Balance" program in their chosen retirement hometown of Bridgton, where they settled five years ago after "the right house" chose them and they felt a strong desire "to be a part of this community." Their arrival in Maine from New Jersey was more of a process than a quick move.

Over several years, Brian, a software developer at Bell Labs, and Meredith, a registered nurse, working in hospital and outpatient chemotherapy settings, enjoyed vacations in Maine that left them with a desire to return on a more permanent basis. Unfortunately, 1989-90, the two-year period they chose to explore living in Maine as innkeepers, coincided with a deep economic recession, which necessitated their return to New Jersey, while retaining the hope of coming back to Maine at some point in the future. Brian's job took them to South Africa during l999-2000. While there, Meredith volunteered at an animal shelter and visited outpatient chemotherapy centers. Back in New Jersey again, Brian worked four more years at his job until retirement freed them to act on their dream. While exploring the area, they found a house in Bridgton, and started their new life, which Meredith describes as "feeling every day like we're still on vacation!"

Meredith and Brian are obviously drawn to engagement in community life through volunteering. Meredith started early as a hospital Candy Striper; after marriage she underwent extensive and ongoing training to serve as a volunteer at Contact, a 24-hour hotline (national and international) organization, and also chaired the fundraising committee for the local branch. After returning from the innkeeping experience, she volunteered at the Mercer County Wildlife Organization helping to care for a variety of baby animals. She now serves as a volunteer with the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

Besides serving on a volunteer ambulance corps, Brian gained experience as a caregiver for his mother with Alzheimer's disease. His volunteer role with the Chamber of Commerce recently turned into employment when he was hired as Office Manager, a job which he shares with Judy Pelletier (also a Matter of Balance coach). He is a member of the Lions Club, and on the Board of Directors of the Moose Pond Association, which focuses on preventing millefoile infestation in local waters. But it is their work together as coaches for "A Matter of Balance" that allows them to share the feeling that together they help to make a change for the better in the lives of others. This they say keeps their lives meaningfully and joyfully connected.

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Meredith Thomas, Volunteer Coach with her husband Brian.

Meredith Thomas, Volunteer Coach with her husband Brian.

"If you are looking to volunteer, leading A Matter of Balance is a good way to go because it has the structure and support you would need and you get so much back. You can learn to be a coach: the program does that. You have the model. If somebody is a little shy, this is a perfect thing. It's like taking baby steps. You will get more out of it than you put into it. It's new every time-same book, but always different. After almost four years of volunteering, I can't think of any negatives." 

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