Light a Fire



photographs by william taufic

hair and makeup by warren-tricomi, greenwich: piret aava, edita evon, gina marie matta, susan monahan, monica robinson, gennaro tevolino, joni tussing and nina velez

for the past three years we have set out to honor the unsung heroes of our towns —those people who offer a wealth of wisdom, skills and energy in order to better the lives of others. On the following pages we celebrate the honorees that you, our readers, nominated. They quietly and steadfastly model patience and perseverance. They make the world a better and more humane place, from empowering women through education to easing the pain of hospice patients. We congratulate them for all they’ve done, and also honor you, for singling out the warm, bright beams among us.

Lifetime Achievement

Sally Schenk

Sally Schenk won’t settle for the status quo, not when she has the power to help facilitate change. Since she started volunteering thirteen years ago for Family ReEntry—an agency devoted to helping people in the criminal justice system avoid the revolving-door cycle of crime—she has been steadfast in her determination to stop the pattern in poor pockets of Connecticut, while keeping an especially close eye on the neighborhoods in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, and the young men there.

“It’s a terrible drain,” says Sally, president of the board of directors since 2000. “The boys grow up thinking it’s normal to go to prison. We need successful men to turn these neighborhoods around. The kids need a chance to see their fathers, brothers and uncles succeed.”

The former marketing pro figured she could put her skills to work. “My feeling was, if I can test-market toothpaste, I can test-market reentry in Bridgeport,” says the Stamford resident. But her first six years leading the board were tough. “I had to find people to believe in this cause, that it’s not just an era of lock them up and throw away the key.” She says the support of beloved Greenwich philanthropist Joan Warburg has been pivotal—she has hosted the hugely successful annual Family ReEntry fundraiser at Bydale, her country estate, since 1999.

Through programs that provide a variety of services including domestic violence intervention, mentoring and behavioral health modification, FRE helps about 2,000 men, women and children who have had a parent in prison every year.

Sally notes that Connecticut has the greatest racially imbalanced incarceration rate in the United States. “Accepting the status quo as okay is entirely wrong,” says Sally. She knows her facts by heart: The average cost to incarcerate someone is $40,000 per year, the average term is two years, and while African-Americans comprise 10 percent of the state’s population, they make up 44 percent of the prison population. But she is adamant in her belief that the system can change—one program, one person at a time.

“Reentry programs that gave a man a MetroCard and a pair of jeans and two hours of résumé writing were too thin,” she notes. FRE’s paid staff and volunteers—a team of counselors, caseworkers and mentors, many of whom are former offenders—meet regularly with the prisoners and follow up after their release, as part of the Fresh Start Community ReEntry model program.

With Sally heading the board, the agency has grown tenfold, thanks to a jump in annual revenue from $285,000 in 1999 to about $3.5 million this year. Best of all Yale University research has shown that Fresh Start has reduced recidivism rates by 54 percent.

“Our program is holistic,” Sally notes. “We give hope. The men start to believe. We should be able to do better. Connecticut is a fortunate state—we should be able to take the lead.”

“Sally is absolutely unflappable,” says Nancy Helle, who works with Sally on FRE benefits. “She’s able to handle any crisis graciously. She’s president of the organization, but she’s in the Norwalk office every day, working just like any other staff member. She’s totally committed to seeing Family ReEntry succeed.”

Visit familyreentry.org

Best Friend to Animals

Dara Reid

In a secluded place in Weston surrounded by a quiet forest, a gentle woman, Dara Reid, welcomes wounded, ill and orphaned wild animals. Pretty songbirds make music and coyotes howl at night. They feed nectar from a syringe to a hummingbird they named Bonnie—every twenty minutes for fourteen hours a day. They coax a shaken fawn back to health after her mother was hit by a train in Darien (the baby was rescued by the conductor).

This may seem like a storybook dream in today’s fast-paced world, where kids play Wii “World of Zoo” rather than visit the real thing, but it’s not. Dara founded the nonprofit Wildlife in Crisis (WIC) in 1988 and has been quietly running it ever since. Each year, she and a team of volunteers and interns field over 15,000 phone calls and care for more than 5,000 animals.

“I was always drawn to strays, farm animals or wild animals along the roadside,” she says. “I realized at a very young age that they were without a voice, without significant protection and without rights.”

Dara, a Connecticut native, lives with her family right on-site—her husband, Peter, works in publishing by day and tirelessly helps care for the animals after hours. Daughter Willow Rain, nine, is growing up with a menagerie around her. But the facility is stretched thin. It’s entirely volunteer-run, relying on donations to nurse a barred owl like Eleanor (pictured here), or save a baby bald eagle tangled in a
fishing line.

She is all about saving wildlife every way she can. One day a young boy came in with a little downy woodpecker he had shot with his pellet gun when aiming for a squirrel. “This was an opportunity to educate him one-on-one and show him the birds in our care and the orphaned baby squirrels brought to us after their mothers were shot,” says Dara. “He made a donation toward the bird’s care with his personal savings and promised to never shoot another living being. I believe him.”

Fans flock to the place. “We’re amazingly lucky to have Dara and WIC in our community,” says actor James Naughton, a longtime resident of Fairfield County. When his two dogs found a fawn with a broken leg, he called Dara. “She said ‘Bring him up.’ I was overwhelmed by the number of animals, raptors and babies of every size and shape being fed all day and night by a few volunteer interns.”

“If you ask Dara about the work, she’ll make it all about the animals. About the barred owl whose nest fell to the ground or the orphaned baby bunnies,” says Amy Jenner, a busy Pfizer sales professional and WIC volunteer. “Dara Reid never says no, but WIC subsists entirely on donations. Every penny goes directly to care of the animals. Without it, thousands would die every year.”

As for Bonnie, the featherlight hummingbird, it took her a year to molt and grow in new flight feathers—and Dara plans to release her this spring.

Visit wildlifeincrisis.com

Most Involved Couple

Juanita James & Dudley Williams

Juanita James and Dudley Williams of Stamford don’t just work together well as spouses and proud parents to their son Dudley N. Williams III, who is twenty. They also complement each other as advocates for change.

Even their high-profile careers are focused on giving back—Juanita as chief marketing & communications officer for Pitney Bowes, a role that involves overseeing corporate citizenship and philanthropy, and Dudley as director of district education strategy at GE Asset Management Group, working with a landmark grant to help improve Stamford Public Schools.

They both tutored during college (Juanita at Princeton, where she graduated in the second class of women admitted to the University and Dudley at Columbia), and by the time they moved to Stamford, they were really ready to dig in.

Once their son was in the school system, they got a closer look at the causes they wanted to target for the greater good. After Dudley III attended a half-day preschool program run by the Board of Education, word was it was going to be cut—so his dad started going to Board of Ed meetings to help save it. “It was quite a battle,” says Dudley. But the program survives, now replaced by the full-day School Readiness Program at Childcare Learning Centers of Stamford (CLC), helping hundreds of three- and four-year-olds start kindergarten with every advantage.

“I grew up in New York City, where everything is so massive,” says Dudley. “It was nice to be able to go to a Board of Ed meeting and actually have your voice heard.” He would serve nine years on the board, including two terms as president. Juanita was putting her time into civic and community efforts, too. Both have held pivotal roles on the board of the CLC, and Juanita serves on the board of Reading is Fundamental, a literacy nonprofit with a goal of getting all children reading, especially underserved kids from birth to age eight.

“We can’t expect our schools to do everything and fix every problem,” Juanita says. That’s why she stands behind RIF and other agencies that help complete the big picture of what kids need, from dental care to healthful eating. “When you’re educating a child, that means partnering with other agencies.”

In his role at GE, Dudley is overseeing Stamford’s participation in the GE Foundation’s Developing Futures in Education program—a five-year, $150 million investment aimed at improving student achievement in six targeted urban school districts.

“We’ve got a situation here in our state where almost forty percent of our low-income high school students don’t graduate. It’s everyone’s responsibility to makes sure that public education is doing the job it needs to do,” says Dudley.

Schools superintendent Joshua Starr is quick to praise the power pair. “Dudley and Juanita are great citizens of Stamford and true champions of public education,” he says. “Juanita’s involvement throughout the system has been invaluable and Dudley has brought much needed attention to achievement gap issues. His advice has been instrumental to our success.”

Visit rif.org and stamfordpublicschools.com

Best Friend to Seniors

William Bittel 

Sometimes the unexpected challenges in life are the very things that change it for the better. That’s what happened to Bill Bittel of Greenwich.

In 1995 Bill suffered a stroke. “I was so happy to survive that I wanted to give more, contribute to the community,” he says. “I have an involuntary tremor in my left hand. But I have my memory and all that, I can still drive and I’m really glad to be here.”

So the native of the small Western Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Zelienople—who was a former U.S. Navy flight officer, consumer products sales and marketing professional for Gulf Oil, Pepsi-Cola and Perrier, then a realtor—completed the training necessary to make companionship calls to mostly homebound seniors. And he’s been doing it ever since, as a part of Friendly Connections, run by Greenwich-based Family Centers.

A grandfather and a talker who doesn’t beat around the bush, Bill calls his clients once a week to check in and see how they’re doing. The phone calls go a long way to staving off the loneliness and sense of isolation that can overcome the elderly. “What we talk about a lot is the weather. Everybody likes to complain about that. It’s too cold, it’s too hot. But sometimes, I say hello and that’s the last word I get out. They need to talk to somebody,” he says. “And some of them think of me—at age seventy-two—as a young whippersnapper.”

Bill stays on the phone as long as each senior wants. “Some just want forty-five seconds. They want to know that I’m thinking of them.” On alternate Thursdays, he also runs a popular call-in trivia game for seniors who are patched in on a conference line. And as part of the Friendly Visitor program run by Family Centers, Bill drives his Jeep Cherokee to the home of an older gentleman every two weeks, taking his usual seat in a club chair and listening to colorful stories.

“Bill knows the seniors look forward to his call or visit, and he doesn’t let them down,” says Rebecca Lippel, gerontologist and manager of Friendly Connections. “He has a phenomenal outlook on life and the work he does.”

Visit familycenters.org

Most Charitable Business Owner

Arnold Karp

When Arnold Karp and his brother Douglas were growing up in Stamford, their parents Charles and Arlene were committed to teaching the boys the importance of gratitude and giving back to the community that nurtured them. The lesson went a long way.

Arnold Karp has volunteered his time and company’s resources to a roster of projects in Fairfield County. The president of Karp Associates, a successful construction firm, Arnold served on the New Canaan High School Building Committee (which transformed the 1970s school into a state-of-the-art facility) and lent his company’s mighty muscle to help build parking lots for the New Canaan YMCA and the Jewish Community Center of Stamford.

“Lots of people have different skill sets and if asked, are willing to use them for not-for-profits,” says Arnold, who lives in New Canaan. He has served on the board of the Stamford Museum & Nature Center for years and is past president—a role he grew into, since he and his brother spent a lot of time at the museum as boys, and their dad donated his accounting services to the museum.

Arnold was invited by Mayor Dan Malloy to bring his vision to the Mill River Collaborative, a planned park and greenway running right through the heart of his hometown. The fresh-air fantasy includes a kayak launch, ice-skating rink, carousel, jogging and bike trails and interactive fountain. In addition to putting his professional expertise to philanthropic use, Arnold also sits on the board of the Migraine Research Foundation, which grants funds to physicians and scientists to help find a cure for the painful and often debilitating condition.

And the family tradition continues. Arnold and Douglas (who also is involved in many volunteer projects) are passing on the concept of philanthropy to their own children. “They have to realize that their wants, wishes and desires take a backseat sometimes,” says Arnold. “Dad passed away before he could see the great qualities he passed on. We hope the next six children take the lessons they’ve learned from us. If you’re fortunate in life, you take the time to help others. It’s a commitment. Giving back is an important part of life.”

His brother is his biggest fan. “Arnold has always had a gift for building, literally and figuratively,” says Douglas. “As a kid, it was treehouses and then later rebuilding classic cars. He brings that ability to see around corners and solve intractable problems to his community commitments. He has an extraordinary willingness to lend a hand.”

Visit millriverpark.com and stamfordmuseum.org

Best Friend to Children

Sue Rogers

Parents and teachers in schools across America hope and pray for someone like Sue Rogers to walk through the door—to advocate for kids, gel with the administration, and inspire and lead the Board of Education (and moms and dads) to move mountains and make things the best they can be.

Because if Sue can’t do it, no one can.

The Greenwich mother of two sons, ages ten and twelve, has proven again and again that she’s in it for the long haul when it comes to achieving a goal she sets her sights on. Even if that means fighting for a cause for almost ten years—from the time parents were surveyed in 2000 about improving Glenville School on Riversville Road until the day the new building opened near the end of 2009. While serving as Glenville PTA president, she spearheaded the lobbying effort for the $28 million building project. The space now boasts amenities including a “gymatorium” with sleek sound system, a courtyard and a media center with a TV studio.

“Sue is the chief lobbyist for education in town,” says friend Peggy Berenblum. “She never stops. She was the driving force in getting the Glenville School building project completed. She also attends every Board of Ed meeting, which never seem to end before 11:00. In that small body beats a heart bigger than any other I have seen.”

Now serving as president of the Greenwich Public School PTA Council, which coordinates the efforts of fifteen individual PTAs, Sue is also in her eighth year as an active member of the Junior League. She brought in record revenues in 2007 at The Enchanted Forest, the League’s biggest fundraiser and was chosen to chair the fiftieth anniversary event for more than 500 members and community dignitaries, celebrating the legendary organization that began in 1959.

And as a product of the public school system herself—she graduated from Greenwich High, as did her parents—Sue understands that PTA parents see beyond flower sales and book fairs, and cut to the heart of what matters: their children. “It’s very emotional when you talk about your kids,” she says. “You can be a calm person, but when you think there’s an injustice being done, you would lie down in the middle of the Post Road. People just want to be heard.”

Like most big thinkers, Sue looks to the future and the legacy she’s leaving. “You’re talking big-picture commitment. I didn’t fight to rebuild Glenville School for my kids—my younger son is in his last year there. But I tell my boys, “Every time you go by this school, you’ll know what I and others did. I feel like I taught them a valuable lesson, that you can make a difference with a little determination and a lot of luck.”

Visit Jlgreenwich.org and greenwichschools.org

Outstanding Grassroots Volunteer

Rosalia Barnes

Rosalia Barnes of Old Greenwich sensed a good opportunity for her son when she saw it. Tom, now a junior at NYU, was giving up high school sports, and she wanted to keep him from feeling adrift, something a lot of teens experience. So when she learned that their church—historic Christ Church Greenwich—was possibly ending its ministry to help the homeless via Midnight Run, a Dobbs Ferry-based organization that delivers food, clothing and toiletries to the homeless of New York City, a lightbulb went off.

“There were no real plans to keep the program going forward. I thought this would make a good activity for older teens, to give them an anchor to the church,” says Rosalia, a full-time market research consultant. Her instinct was right.

She gathered about fifteen kids, including Tom, all sophomores and older. Part of the attraction was that they could earn community service hours; the other part was that Rosalia empowered them. They would run the program. She was the adult chair, but they would do the bulk of the work, learning to manage and lead an organization.

They set up a plan that is still in place. Once a month for two hours, teens meet at Christ Church to sift through donated clothes, editing them down to an inventory from which the homeless can choose. After a teen banks enough sorting hours, he or she earns the chance to do a Midnight Run.

Then on various Saturdays throughout the year, whether the teens are going on the run or not, they spend the day together, each bringing one ingredient to make the hearty beef barley stew that will be handed out that night. They load the van for its New York voyage, with big containers of stew, plus coffee, orange juice and sack lunches for the next day (two sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg, fruit and a cookie). A selected team of six teens and two adult volunteers leave at 9 p.m. Saturday and return around 2 a.m. Sunday.

Once in the city, the van parks at designated stops on the East Side, from 42nd Street to 125th Street, and the kids fan out in pairs to deliver sustenance and kind words. “When a young person engages someone in conversation, it brightens that person.” says Rosalia.

The run also provides perspective. “The kids so appreciate what they have. You know, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ They understand that these people had ordinary lives but somewhere along the way, something bad happened,” says Rosalia.

Volunteers like Mary Ann Eggers, now a Dickinson College sophomore, sing Rosalia’s praises. “I got to go on the actual runs many times. Probably the best experience of my life,” says Mary Ann, who attended Greenwich High. “I’ve never done more fulfilling community service. The direct experience with the homeless was amazing. And Rosalia Barnes is like my second mother. She has such motivation to get teenagers involved directly with the community.”

Rosalia is quick to point out that her efforts wouldn’t succeed without her very special kids. “The teen years can be superficial, but my kids are making sandwiches for the homeless. There’s more to life than cell phones and Facebook. They spend their Saturday nights doing this till two in the morning when there are a lot of other options.”

Visit midnightrun.org or call Christ Church Greenwich, 203-869-6600

Outstanding Teen Volunteer

Jyotsna Winsor

Jyotsna Winsor, eighteen, comes from a family with girl power aplenty. She is the second eldest of four Stamford sisters, including Mallika, nineteen; Rachel, seventeen; and Dawn, fifteen. And they’re all about equipping kids, young women in particular, with the self-confidence and skills to excel in technology, math and science—via robotics.

JoJo, as her friends call her, and her sisters started participating in robot-building with FIRST LEGO League (FLL) student teams in 2001. The international league is a partnership of the LEGO group (yes, those colorful building blocks) and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization founded in 1989 to inspire kids to get interested in engineering and technology. FLL competitions are for ages nine to fourteen, and involve teams who build robots according to an assigned theme, such as Ocean Odyssey or Power Puzzle, and display them in expos and tournaments.

When JoJo and Co. got to Stamford High, they had aged out of FLL, so they set out to start Stamford Robotics. “My sisters and I were too old for FLL, but we decided we couldn’t stop the momentum of this program that had such a tremendous impact on our lives,” says JoJo.

So acting as mentors, coaches and science/tech messengers in general, they branched out to bring Junior FIRST Lego League to kids ages six to nine years old. They recruited nearly fifty “Junior Mentors” from high schools, and, JoJo proudly says, the league now has hundreds of kids involved and is constantly training new teams.

“We started bringing math and robotics to the schools,” says JoJo, now a freshman at the University of Connecticut, where she’s studying materials science and engineering. “It was the coolest thing. A lot of girls got involved and that’s important, because a lot of times they shy away from math and science.”

For JoJo, volunteering has been like breathing, ever since she was a Daisy Scout at age five. In seventh grade, she started visiting nursing homes, to play her trumpet, sing songs or talk one-on-one with residents. In high school, she volunteered with the junior teams at the
Boys & Girls Club.

Now that the Winsor women have gotten more kids pumped about tech, math and science, how about getting them off their cell phones and into volunteering? “If a teen can’t find something she’s interested in, volunteering can be a drag. It takes exposure to that special something that might spark a flame in someone’s heart and inspire her to give back,” JoJo notes.

For her little sister, JoJo helped spark that flame. “JoJo always puts others before herself,” says Dawn. “She really has a great way of showing the interesting side of math and science, which makes kids want to learn. She has made a difference in all of our lives.”

Visit stamfordrobotics.org and firstlegoleague.org

Best Friend to Women

Edith Faile

Edie Faile of Fairfield considers herself really lucky.

“I had a mom who read to me all the time. She loved words,” says Edie. So much so that Edie and her brothers grew up without a TV. “There’s a great poem, ‘The Reading Mother,’ by Strickland Gillilan,” she says. “The lines say ‘Richer than I you never can be—I had a Mother who read to me.’”

She also had a grandmother who gave her a Singer sewing machine one Christmas, which Edie used to make a long white high school graduation dress and later, hippie skirts in college and then American Girl clothes for her daughter’s dolls.

Once her daughter graduated from high school, Edie began volunteering part-time at the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport—she was a kind of modern-day Mary Poppins, with an ever-expanding carpet bag of skills to teach the women enrolled there. She started with English and then added basic sewing. Soon, she was on the board of directors.

“Bridgeport is the poorest zip code in the state,” she notes. “We get a lot of women in their late teens, a lot of young moms. We teach them how to read and write, so they can keep ahead of their kids and their homework. We tell them about bringing cupcakes into school for their child’s birthday, or going to the movies, or how to read recipes. We’re trying to make their lives easier, help them fit in.” The sewing classes also provide a valuable—and marketable—skill set that help the women gain economic independence. They can work in dry cleaning shops as tailors or barter their services, sewing for neighbors in exchange for meals or childcare, explains Edie.

The rewards are rich. “I hope I’ve given out as much as I’ve gotten, because I’ve gotten a lot,” she says. “One of my favorite ladies was a sharecropper’s daughter from the South. She had been married to the same man for maybe fifty years. And now she could finally write him a love letter. We were all in tears.”

“Thousands of women who were enrolled at Mercy Learning Center over the past eight years have benefited from the time, energy and gifts that Edie has graciously shared,” says MLC’s development director, Kathy Parisi. “She helps them build their dreams.”

Visit mercylearningcenter.org

Most Dedicated Committee Member

Beth Hayes

Beth Hayes brings small-town heart to volunteering. Raised in Fayetteville, West Virginia—population about 1,900 then—she watched family and friends model charitable behavior. “If you got sick, neighbors brought food. And no one would ever take a limousine to the airport,” she says. “Someone would drive you.”

After moving to Westport with her husband, Jonathan, Beth got involved on a larger scale, honoring the lessons of kindness and generosity that were her legacy.

“Here we are sitting around in our warm, happy houses, and many people have nothing to eat,” she says. “And they have to sleep on mattresses on the floor in a hallway.”

She became a loyal go-to fundraising committee member. For more than twenty-five years, she’s helped conceive and carry off events that bring in money to fund vital services. Beth puts grace and gusto behind house tours, parties and fashion shows for Near & Far Aid, an all-volunteer effort that fights poverty in Fairfield County by providing food, shelter, job training and more. She’s also worked her magic for the Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) in Norwalk, doing whatever is needed to help make its annual May luncheon event a big draw, right down to helping stuff the invitations. And Beth has graciously cochaired cocktail parties to benefit the cancer center at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

“I’ve worked for ten years on projects with Beth,” says Andrew Mitchell-Namdar, vice president of marketing & creative services for Mitchells Family of Stores. (Mitchells hosts the Spring Gala for Near & Far Aid every March, with a couture fashion show, wine auction, band, cocktails and dinner.) “She has one of the biggest hearts. Cochairs change every year, but Beth is always there sharing her wisdom. She has no ego. She just quietly gets the job done.”

And she cares deeply about the causes she supports, like domestic violence. “Many women are abused, verbally or physically, and they go to the doctor and the doctor says, ‘You must leave,’ but they don’t know how. Those of us who have never been abused don’t know how to imagine it.” But the DVCC does; it runs a hotline 24/7, 365 days a year and has SafeHouses to shelter women and kids.

Beth’s son, Christopher, has also followed in his family’s philanthropic footsteps. He left business school to develop a device that allows paralyzed patients who can move their heads to use a computer. “He raised the money and started a company called Boost Technology, and a nonprofit called Give-Tech to give these devices to people who need them. They’ve provided over six hundred head units to quadriplegics,” says Beth.

For Beth, the feeling she gets from helping others is reward enough for all that she does. “Volunteering not only helps others, it helps the people who help,” she says.

Visit nearandfaraid.org and dvccct.org

Outstanding Health Advocate

Lynn Slavin

Lynn Slavin of Darien has a special touch—and plenty of nurses, aides, therapists and other staffers at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care of Southwestern Connecticut (VNHCSW) attest to that. A volunteer for the agency since 1996, Lynn has not only provided Reiki treatments for hospice patients and their families, but a few times a year, she offers her healing skills to the caregivers in the Stamford office, too.

Reiki, developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui, is a spiritual practice also known as energy medicine, because practitioners are said to transfer healing energy through their palms.

“It’s not a massage. It’s a light touch. The human touch is so important to someone who is ill or in hospice, or for anyone who is weak or old.” And she advocates for caregivers to receive it, too. “The caregiver of the dying patient is going through anticipatory grief, which can be just as real and just as painful as after the patient dies,” she says.

“Anyone here who knows Lynn immediately thinks of comfort,” says Holly Brookstein, director of development. “Many grateful employees have been lucky enough to experience her healing touch.”

The story starts about twenty years ago, when Lynn was a receptionist for a medical group that included oncologists. From her seat at the front desk, she was drawn to the patients.

“I loved the connection with oncology patients and their families, even when we just exchanged a few words as they walked into the elevator,” she says. “And it wasn’t sympathy. It was empathy. Sympathy is almost feeling sorry for somebody. Empathy is connecting with what they’re feeling.” When the medical group later downsized and she lost her job, she started to learn Reiki and to train as a hospice volunteer.

Ever since then Lynn has reached out to help both hospice patients and their families. “I was with one patient when she passed away. After about fifteen minutes, she gently pushed my hands away and nodded. And I gave Reiki to her husband and daughter, too, while they were dealing with the grief. It’s saying, without words, ‘I’m here for you. I understand. I’m giving you comfort.’”

Now, in a touching turn of events, the mother of two and wife to Raymond for forty-nine years has found the spiritual practice especially comforting for herself in recent months. Lynn was diagnosed with throat cancer this past summer and underwent surgery in the fall to have her larynx removed.

“I give myself Reiki all the time, especially in the morning and at night when I go to bed. I place my hands on my neck or throat and feel the energy. It makes you feel like you’re not alone. Someone is supporting you. I’ll be doing it on myself when I’m in the hospital.”

In our society, we’re so afraid to touch. But when you’re distressed, if someone puts his arm around you, he’s saying, ‘You’re not alone.’ The body knows wellness. Hands have been used to heal for centuries and centuries.”

Visit wellnessmattersllc.com and vnhcsw.org for the Nurse & Hospice Care of Southwestern Connecticut

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