Each week or so, Carol Becker strolls the aisles of a nearby grocery store, plucking items at the behest of her companion, a woman who at times must depend upon the kindness of others.
Those who happen to catch Becker reaching for items out of her companion’s grasp, or retracing steps to pick up something missed on the first pass, might well think, “What a lovely gesture.”
And Becker would agree, though every bit as much for herself as for the woman with her.
Becker, 69, may be the volunteer, and 81-year-old Marge Bowsher the client, but as with many such opportunities, this is a two-way street — or more appropriately, a two-way aisle.
The two were linked by Duet: Partners in Health & Aging, a nonprofit that provides volunteers for those who need help shopping, or getting to doctor appointments, or just would like someone to talk to.
Duet received a $20,000 grant from Season for Sharing in 2019 to help with those efforts.
Since 1993, Season for Sharing has raised — and given away — more than $66 million to nonprofits statewide that help struggling families, support teachers and students and aid older Arizonans. Last year, $2.1 million was awarded to 162 organizations.
Grants are made possible by donations from community members and businesses. The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust is on board as a Season for Sharing sponsor again this year.
All administrative costs for Season for Sharing are covered by The Arizona Republic, which means 100% of donations go back into the community.
Through January, The Republic and azcentral.com will highlight the impact that last year’s grants have made in the community and shine the spotlight on the work that nonprofits do to help those in need.
Finding purpose through volunteering
Duet is dedicated to aiding people who otherwise might face an undesired move to an assisted living facility.
In this case that would be Bowsher, who’s been unable to drive since a brain tumor robbed her of one eye 20 years ago. Her husband died nearly 15 years ago and while she was able to depend on her children for a time, life has swept them to different responsibilities.
That leaves Becker as the officially designated volunteer. Each week or two, she swings by Bowsher’s complex before heading to the local Fry’s Food Store. Together, aisle by aisle, they tackle Bowsher’s lengthy list, ending with several bag-laden trips from trunk to apartment.
Within a few hours, Becker waves goodbye and drives back to her own home, which isn’t all that far away thanks to Duet’s policy to match the geographically friendly.
But this is what is easy to miss in these occasional trips – the camaraderie between two women who have realized over the past two years how much they have in common, and how interesting their differences have made them to one another.
It’s why Becker finds this relationship every bit as enjoying, if not slightly needful, as the person depending on it.
Because Becker has come to depend on it as well.
In May 2018, Becker still planned to work for as long as she could. Not because she had to, but because she wanted to. She loved her job as a massage therapist, as well as the flexibility it offered.
That’s when her own body failed her. A medical condition forced her to give up what she truly loved.
“Suddenly I wasn’t seeing people or doing anything that was helpful,” Becker said. “I felt as if I lost my purpose.”
She drifted for a bit in a sea of helplessness, trying to steady herself in a life that now was unfamiliar. Those clients she met regularly, people who had anchored her to meaning and purpose, were gone.
This was not the way Becker had envisioned for herself.
“I lost that social connection,” she said. “It’s a big part of who I am.”
That’s when a neighbor told her about Duet. Becker went online and discovered the nonprofit’s story, how it was started in 1981 by the Rev. Dosia Carlson as a means of enabling older adults to stay in their homes by offering services they required to remain independent.
Intrigued by its one-on-one premise in which volunteers are matched with clients based on location and needs, Becker attended an orientation and knew almost immediately it was for her.
After successfully completing Duet’s vetting process (all volunteers are thoroughly background checked, as are the clients), Becker soon pulled up in front of Marge Bowsher’s home.
‘Companionship is a basic need’
Bowsher, too, never expected to find herself in need of outside help. Married to a career Air Force man and raising five children while moving from base to base, she knew how to take care of more than herself.
And the jobs. So many jobs.
“If you can think of it,” she said, “I probably did it.”
The last move brought them to Luke Air Force Base and retirement, but five years ago it became clear to Bowsher that if she wanted to avoid an assisted living home, she was going to need a little help.
She’s been with Duet ever since.
“The people I’ve met have been wonderful,” Bowsher said. “You become friends over time, and I’m still in touch with a few.”
Duet encourages such relationships, one of the reasons it refers to volunteers and clients as “neighbors,” according to Sue Reckinger, Duet’s senior director of volunteer services.
And by all measures, Duet has been successful in its mission. Clients have been able to stay in their home 2½ years longer than if they had no one driving them to doctor appointments, or taking them shopping, or making minor home repairs.
The service has proven so popular that, despite 500 volunteers on Duet’s roster, more than 70 people are still hoping for an assigned neighbor.
“People sign up for all reasons,” Reckinger said. “Most need rides to medical appointments, but we also have a lot of people who just want to have an occasional visitor. Someone to talk to or play a board game.
“Companionship is a basic need. People desire that human connection, giving them that encouragement to keep going on with their lives.”
On a recent shopping trip, Becker and Bowsher paused over a bin of NFL-themed Christmas stockings. Soon it was clear they were on opposite ends of the football field when it came to allegiance.
They both laughed it off, because that’s what friends do.
How to donate to Season for Sharing
There are four ways to donate:
- Fill out the online form at sharing.azcentral.com.
- Use the coupon on Page 4A of The Arizona Republic and mail donations to P.O. Box 29250, Phoenix, AZ 85038-9250.
- Text “sharing” to 91-999 and click on the link in the text message.
- Click on the “donate” button at facebook.com/seasonforsharing.
Where the money goes
One hundred percent of donations and matching funds go to nonprofits primarily located in Maricopa and Pinal counties, but also around the state, that support teachers and students, help struggling families and aid older Arizonans. Last year, $2.1 million was raised and given back to 162 charities. All overhead and fundraising costs are paid by The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com.
Support our supporters
These Phoenix-based groups support Season for Sharing:
- Nina Mason Pulliam Trust provides matching funds. ninapulliamtrust.org
- Dig It Gardens, 3015 N. 16th St., Phoenix, hosts yoga classes, with proceeds going to this year’s campaign. Go to digphx.com for their event calendar.
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