April 8, 2010

USA: When Wishing Makes It So

. NEW YORK, NY / The New York Times / Health /April 8, 2010 By Karen Barrow Chokyi Kalzang, 67, wanted to go back to school. Ms. Kalzang had an acceptance letter in hand, a grant to pay for her tuition and all the motivation in the world to complete her credits. But she was missing one thing necessary for a modern college education: a computer. One day, at her local senior center in Boulder, Colo., Ms. Kalzang saw a flier asking older people for essays about their one greatest wish. Figuring she had nothing to lose, Ms. Kalzang wrote about her dream of finishing the college degree she began 50 years ago and about how something as simple as a computer and printer stood in the way of her goal. Photo credit: Jerry Bloom's Wishes Gallery That essay went to Jeremy Bloom’s Wish of a Lifetime, a charity named for Mr. Bloom, an Olympic skier and former professional football player, that grants wishes to low-income older people. The organization used donations totaling $1,000 to provide Ms. Kalzang with a new laptop and printer. After some computer lessons from her grandson, Ms. Kalzang enrolled at Metropolitan State College last fall. While there are large organizations that grant wishes to chronically ill children and to the poor, Wish of a Lifetime is among just a handful of small charities that focus on underprivileged older people. Their wishes range from the fanciful (a trip skydiving, for instance) to the basic (a visit with a new granddaughter in another state) to the essential (the installation of an accessible shower). Simply put, these organizations tell older people that it’s O.K. to keep dreaming and working toward larger goals. Another such organization, the Twilight Wish Foundation, grants wishes directly, but also encourages the public to assist older people more routinely. The organization began when a stranger noticed three elderly women struggling to find enough loose change to cover a small lunch at a local diner. A patron slipped $20 to the waitress to cover the bill. Years later, the Twilight Wish Foundation still encourages others to discreetly pay for an older person sitting at another table in their local restaurant. Forever Young, an organization in Tennessee, often fulfills the wishes of World War II veterans. One such veteran, Bill Yocum, 84, contacted the organization with his wish to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington. Other veterans caught wind of this wish and also called in, hoping to get a chance to see the memorial. Ultimately, Forever Young sponsored 53 people to fly to Washington last October — including veterans, their families and nurses to help those who needed assistance. The group visited the memorial and met with former Senator Elizabeth Dole, Republican of North Carolina. Many look at life after 65 with trepidation. Loneliness is common; physical and mental decline can lead to depression, and income often must be strictly budgeted to make ends meet. According to the sponsors of these organizations, a granted wish can help keep older people active, excited about new opportunities and looking forward to the future. “My degree was something I needed to complete in order to pursue my next adventure,” said Ms. Kalzang, whose laptop helped her finish 16 credits last fall, earning three As, one B and a C in her five classes. When she completes her degree in social work, Ms. Kalzang’s new goal will be to open an assisted living center in Boulder for “baby boomers who don’t want to sit in a chair all day,” she said. Education, she added, “is not keeping me young, it’s keeping me in the ball game.” [rc] Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company