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Stories

My Volunteering Life

Wendy IsemanWendy Iseman, LifePath VolunteerVolunteering is in my blood. As a young girl growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I started with the Candy Stripers, wearing a pink and white striped dress as my uniform, walking down the halls of Polyclinic Hospital pushing a cart filled with books to distribute to patients. I also filled flower vases with water to keep them fresh and talked and joked with patients who at that time seemed really ancient. I was 12 years old.

Next up was a volunteer job at 16 at a Settlement House in Little Italy in Cleveland, where I played games on the concrete playground with kids of all ages and served them snacks, broke up fights and took care of skinned knees.

Over the years I continued to volunteer by working on a Wildlife Committee with the Sierra Club in New York City, a tenants’ rights organizer in my Staten Island apartment building and as an activist for the local park across the street. In 18 years I hosted over 200 travelers in my apartment on Staten Island through a group called SERVAS, which was started after World War II to create international friendships.

In Maine I volunteered for 6 years with Western Maine Senior College, which held health workshops, community and educational programs, and made great friends there too! My friends and I started a group where we held get-togethers at a local café hosting young people from around the world who were working at Sunday River Ski Resort as international workers.

For over 20 years I volunteered overseas with host/volunteer groups through WWOOF and Workaway.info, working on farms with animals and vegetables, managing AirBnBs, youth hostels, and helping in private homes with gardening, landscaping, elder, and child care. My last volunteer period lasted 19 months in Europe, working mainly on farms. I cared for 13 donkeys and one mule, sheep, chickens, goats and my absolute favorite: pigs. I regularly petted a huge bull named Cumulus and his 35 ladies who roamed the greenest fields I have ever seen. I worked on olive farms in Italy with horses and 3 weeks at a plant nursery in Brussels.

And, now, here I am at LifePath working with Rides for Health, taking people to medical appointments in my car 4-5 times a month.

For 10 years I volunteered as a digger at Kent Archeological Field School in Faversham, England, digging up Roman relics; an incredible experience for someone who loves history.

At one point I volunteered at the National Trust in England, rebuilding stone walls, cutting weeds in a stream that flowed to the ocean, and clearing paths on walking paths near the sea.

And, now, here I am at LifePath working with Rides for Health, taking people to medical appointments in my car 4-5 times a month. I like my “clients” very much! We have great conversations and I feel like I am doing something that has real purpose for me. As an elderly person myself (I just turned 70 in June), I really feel for people who have medical issues and can’t drive themselves to appointments or don’t have a car. I have my share of medical issues but I am still driving and hope to be part of this program for years to come.

About 18 months ago I took a workshop with LifePath offered in Franklin County on Learning to Live with Chronic Illness. It was a fantastic course taught by lay leaders who had medical issues themselves. Andi Waisman, Coordinator of Healthy Living, learned of my social work/health education background and asked if I would be interested in taking training to become a lay leader myself and I jumped at the chance. I spent 21 years in Brooklyn, NY, teaching adults how to manage their lung disease and I was missing those workshops and the wonderful people who attended.

Eight months later I took the training for teaching Healthy Eating. My friends got a good laugh out of that because I am known for my love of sweets and fast food. But who better to teach a class than someone who is struggling with making the right choices? I have changed many of my poor habits because of the Healthy Eating class and have learned I can really eat healthy food without breaking the bank!

Healthy Living now has a once a month workshop on the third Monday of each month where we invite people who have attended the Healthy Living Workshops in the past to continue their personal quest for health. Just in the last few months we have had speakers on Tai Chi, eating healthy with Just Roots, a local CSA, and mindfulness. I am proud to be the facilitator of this group which is called The Path to Hope and Healing. The workshop is open to the public too and we encourage you to contact LifePath to get more information.

Volunteering is one of the greatest things I do in my life. There are so many people who need help to live a healthier, happier life. The staff at LifePath are passionate about what they do. I have been well-trained and looked after and even rewarded with delicious lunches in thanks. It is a win-win situation all around.

If you have the time and have been thinking about volunteering at LifePath, please give them a call at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.