Retired Teacher Brings Joy to the Elderly With Companionship and Assistance

Daily Point of Light # 7849 Jul 5, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Claire Laveglia. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

When Claire Laveglia was a teenager, she volunteered as a candy striper for a local hospital as a way to earn hours for her Service Club. Two years of helping people navigate the hospital and being a friendly face amidst others’ challenging times cemented a love for community involvement that she’d carry throughout her life.  

After retiring from a 20-year career in special education teaching children on the autism spectrum and training parents, staff and other caregivers, Claire set out to dedicate her newfound free time to volunteering. She found a nearby Jewish Community Center (JCC)—and later, Jewish Family Services (JFC)—and has been focused on Older Adult Services for the last five years. As a reliable and friendly visitor, Claire’s visits are bright spots for those she is paired with to socialize, deliver groceries to and drive to appointments each week.  

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?  

I retired young. I still had plenty of energy and interest in contributing to society. At the time we were living in southern New Jersey, and the JCC there had lots of volunteering opportunities, so I got involved. Subsequently, we moved to Delaware, and because I’d had such a good experience, I connected with JFS here.  

Tell us about your volunteer role with Jewish Family Services. 

I got started with the Memory Cafe, where caregivers and people suffering with memory problems would meet once a week to discuss a topic of the day. And after we started talking, you couldn’t tell the difference between the people with memory problems and the people without. People could recall what they’d done 25 years ago as clearly as if it had happened yesterday even though they couldn’t remember what they’d done five minutes ago.  

That was a wonderful experience, but it got shut down during the pandemic. Subsequently, JFS started a program to bring meals to seniors who were shut in. One of the homes that I went to belongs to a woman that I still shop for, despite the program being eliminated when Covid-19 got under control. She was there with her husband, who was quite ill, and couldn’t leave the house for fear of bringing Covid back to him. So, I went grocery shopping for them every week. He has since died, and we have maintained a relationship. Now, I go into her house and visit when I bring her groceries. 

Another woman I connected with is a retired family therapist in assisted living. She still has all her wits and still does research, but her body is failing. I visit her once a week and take her out if she needs to go somewhere. We’ve become very good friends. I also drive other clients to appointments, the grocery store and so on.  

Additionally, I’m involved with Nemours Children’s Hospital in Wilmington. I volunteer there once a week. Most of the kids are very sick and enjoy being distracted. I’ll read to them or hold the babies. I’ll bring things that they request. They have a very big donation network, so they usually have a big stash of toys and other things.  

Nemours also has an estate adjacent to the hospital. I started helping in the gardens two years ago. I really enjoy that, because I’m a gardener. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

It’s getting to know amazing people. I know two Holocaust survivors who have written books through my volunteering. I’ve met people who have lived through amazing experiences and are positive and upbeat, and people who are chronically ill who maintain a sense of humor, keep themselves informed, read the newspaper and continue learning.  

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

I grew up with a perspective that you get older, and you’re put out to pasture. But so many people I work with are knowledgeable and have had fabulous careers and are continuing their education, whether or not they’re homebound.  

You’re never too old to learn. University of Delaware Osher campus offers classes for people 50+. All the professors are volunteers, so you have a lot of retired people teaching. And the topics are deep–the beginnings of the CIA, Russian history, the nuclear movement. People come using walkers and canes and with assistants who would stay with them during the class every week.  

It really opened my eyes. There’s a whole lot more to getting older. The word retirement doesn’t sound right to me. It’s like you’re leaving your life, but you’re just moving to the next phase.  

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about? 

People need to understand that their presence matters. We’re human beings, and we need each other. Loneliness is a major cause of health problems. We need to be able to help our fellow people, not because we’re getting a paycheck at the end but because that’s what we need to do. That’s what gives our lives meaning.  

Another issue, particularly in the US, is not being able to rely on your family. My father was French, and we have another home in Europe. People there can rely on their family to take care of them if they’re ill or aging. That doesn’t seem as common in the US, because we’re so spread out. That’s why volunteers are important, because if you don’t have family to help you, you have to depend on somebody else.  

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

People always say they get more out of volunteering than the people who they help. I feel that way, too. It’s not just something for people who are finished with their career or who don’t have one. Everybody should and could volunteer and be a better person for it. You just need to get connected with an organization. You get to meet great people, too, not only the clients that you serve but other volunteers.  

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Claire? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Kristin Park