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Senior Volunteers to Help all Ages

photo

courtesy of Diane Stoy

Diane Stoy with her grandsons.

— Before heading to the home of the 83-year-old woman she visits each week, Diane Stoy calls to make sure her friend is up for a visit. The answer is almost always yes.

Stoy is a volunteer with Senior Services of Alexandria’s Friendly Visitors program, which was established to alleviate isolation and loneliness among the city’s aging population. Each week, volunteers like Stoy spend an hour with senior citizens building friendships and helping aging residents stay connected to the community. It’s a program Stoy said she is privileged to be a part of.

Stoy began volunteering with Friendly Visitors because of her admiration for the care that Senior Services of Alexandria provides aging residents, especially those who are limited in their mobility. “[The program] tapped into a need that is often not addressed for those seniors who are homebound — to have someone to come and brighten their day, to engage in conversation [and] to distract them from medical concerns or their regular routine,” Stoy said. Further, the experience is beneficial for Stoy as well.

“I look forward to the visit very much,” Stoy said. “I have been able to build a friendship with a woman whom I admire greatly for her optimism and her outlook, despite her limitations.” And as a senior herself, she is inspired by her friend’s resilience. “Her ability to adjust to physical challenges and to illness is an inspiration. I think for everybody growing older is very scary,” Stoy said. Despite being bed-bound, Stoy describes the 83-year-old Alexandrian she has come to know as being clear and in control of her life. Plus, being around her imparts valuable lessons about appreciating in the small joys of life.

“We had a good talk about Memorial Day. Her family had a wonderful holiday meal together. They were able to get her out of her bed, and she was able to sit on the porch and enjoy the air and the comfort of her children,” Stoy said. “Isn’t that what life is — just these simple beautiful things?”

Bonding with her senior friend was something that came naturally to Stoy. As a self-described extrovert and organizational development consultant, Stoy has plenty of experience building relationships with new people.

“I have been able to build a friendship with a woman whom I admire greatly for her optimism and her outlook, despite her limitations.”

— Diane Stoy

THE NEW JERSEY NATIVE was first introduced to Northern Virginia in 1974 when she and her daughter moved to Arlington County and the working mother attended George Washington University. After receiving her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, Stoy relocated to Minneapolis, Minn., where she was offered a full-time professorship at University of St. Thomas.

There, she created a doctoral program in organizational development. As Stoy recalls, when she moved to Minneapolis, she knew no one. However, when she left eight years later, she had a large community of friends, many of whom were the doctoral students she advised. “My students and I are still very close,” Stoy said. “Once you’ve gone through a doctoral program together, there’s a bond.”

After leaving Minneapolis in 2003, Stoy returned to Northern Virginia, this time settling in Alexandria.

“Over these 10 years, I have come to feel that it’s a wonderful blessing to living in Alexandria.”

Stoy has solidified her connection to the city by volunteering with Friendly Visitors and multiple food banks. She also serves as a commissioner on the City of Alexandria’s Economic Opportunity Commission, where she represents the Parent Leadership Training Institute of Alexandria. The Parent Leadership Training Institute trains parents in civics and advocacy skills, and Stoy previously served as a facilitator for the program. She was recommended by the Parent Leadership Training Institute’s executive director Fay D. Slotnick for a seat on the commission because of her reliability and care for the city’s vulnerable. “I knew if there was work to do, she would do it and do it well,” Slotnick said.

STOY’S GENEROSITY and caring nature is also something that friend and fellow volunteer Linda James said drives Stoy’s inclination to constantly connect with people. James met Stoy while the two were volunteering at the Christ House food kitchen in Alexandria. “We became fast friends,” James said. “There’s a drive in her to be professional and to serve whoever is in need at that time.”

Stoy herself sees volunteering as an extension of her vision of living in a community. “I very much believe in our city as a village of people who are here to live together and care for one another,” Stoy said. “To me, the definition of a community is that we pull together — those who have can give.”