Speaking from Their Heart

Emerson, Odessa Elementary School, Florida

One of my favorite times in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program is when we have sent a batch of cards out to the schools and they come back with the students messages written inside. Most of our cards come from elementary age children, although we do have high schools and colleges involved as well. We have to read every card for appropriateness and it is very rare that we ever have to pull a card. When we do, it is usually because there is a message that may mean one thing to a child who means well, but would be taken differently by a senior receiving it. Getting a message that says “I hope you don’t die tomorrow” may not exactly be the way a senior wants to start their day.

When we deliver cards to the schools the question we are asked most often is what should the children write inside? Our answer is always the same. Let them use their imagination and creativity and write what ever is in their heart. Ninety-nine percent of the time the messages that come back are exactly what a senior needs to hear. Children innately get the need and channel the innocence that they still posses into messages that are heartwarming, genuine and pure.

There is only a certain amount of time that children get to enjoy that age of innocence before the world and people start to shape them into who they want them to be, rather than allowing them to carry that innocence on into their own lives. How often do we force them into sports, dance , arts or other activities simply because it is what we wanted for ourselves, but never had the opportunity and now want to live vicariously through them. Rather than let them blossom and grow into who they truly are, we mold them into what we want them to be. In the process we place unneeded pressure that causes that innocence that they were naturally born with to disappear.

When we read childrens’ messages we are hearing their true heart. The compassion and understanding that they convey at such an early age is truly a wonder to behold. When I am in classrooms speaking to students and I ask them how many know what a nursing home or assisted living facility is, many hands go up. It is far more likely that a child will have a relative associated with one of these communities today more than at any time in other generations. There are more of them, more people in them and it is only going to grow as the baby boomer generation ages. That also means that the need that we now strive to meet is only going to get larger.

The connection between seniors and children is powerful. That is why we have, from the very beginning of the program, made connecting the circle of life our mission. Nothing can bring a smile to a senior faster than a note or a visit from a child and we are tapping into that power to drive change. In doing so children learn, seniors smile and at the end of the day we have accomplished our mission. If we continue to let children speak from their heart and be who they are, the world will continue to be a beautiful place.

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.


Taking Care of Yourself…and Mother Earth

Vacation always reminds me of the importance of down time for the body and soul. In our daily lives we go and go and while we try and take care of everything and everyone we sometimes forget how important it is to take care of ourselves as well. No one can do that for us, so we must remember to do it for ourselves.

This past week I did just that and had the pleasure of spending time in our 49th state, Alaska. On January 3, 1959 President Eisenhower signed a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the union as our 49th state. In doing so he added some of the most beautiful scenery in the world to our precious United States. It’s hard to believe that Alaska has only been a state for 59 years. The majesty and beauty that is around the bend of every river, the banks of every shore and the valley of every mountain remind you of the grandeur and power of nature.

Alaska is a place where you still find pristine waterways, untouched mountain ranges, temperate zones that change with the altitude and ancient glaciers and rock formations. Unfortunately, is also a place where we get to experience first hand the destructive nature that we can have on the planet, if we ignore the effect we as people have on our changing climate.

I visited Alaska 18 years ago and got to see some the same places I visited back then. The difference in glacial ice and snow in just that 18 year time period is so evident that it is heartbreaking. There was so little ice that we were able to sail the entire length of Tracy Arm fjord, that which was often impassable by ships at this time of year. While it provided for spectacular viewing, it was also a stark reminder that we need to do what we can to take care of Mother Earth to preserve the beauty and splendor for future generations. This is not meant as a political statement, but rather a reality statement if our children and grandchildren and future generations are going to be able to enjoy what we get to enjoy today.

Alaska is a simple place with small populations, old ways of life, dependence on the land for survival and a place where you can’t take every day necessities for granted. If you live in Skagway, there is one grocery store and one gas station. When the store runs out of milk, it could be days before it gets it again. If you want to run to Wal-Mart, the closest one is in Canada 150 miles away, but you can’t buy meats and other items and bring them back across the border as the inspectors won’t let them through. If you need a doctor, there aren’t any – only nurse practitioners. If you live in Juneau the only way into the city is by boat or plane. Everyone knows everyone and the sense of community is strong and alive.

The best thing for me this vacation was not only recharging, but reconnecting with nature. I was reminded how fortunate I am in life, for the things that I have learned and for the opportunities to do what I am able to do for myself and the world. We get one chance at life and often don’t get a second chance at missed opportunities. This is why I try and live each day as full as I can make it. I feel energized to continue the work we have started and to use each day to better my own life and all the lives of those that we touch. In doing so, I will also remember the importance of taking care of the earth that we live in. I will take that one extra step to the recycle bin rather than the garbage. I will turn off that light that isn’t necessary. I will find the nearest garbage can for litter and I will avoid the excessive unnecessary use of water. If we can do these things we will further our mission of connecting the circle of life and ensuring that generations that come long after we are gone get to enjoy the beauty that has been bestowed upon us.

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.


Grandma Lola: The Toothache

When I was in high school I was involved in speech and debate. As part of that effort I often participated in oratorical contests that were sponsored by the American Legion. One of the requirements of the contests were that you had to deliver both a memorized and extemporaneous speech based on a series of topics that would be drawn at any given event. For me, the memorization part was the hardest as the speeches were quite lengthy. As my grandmother and I would visit friends and shut-ins around town, she would have me recite the speech for them. She felt the more exposure and opportunity I had and the more I could repeat the speeches, the words would sink in and the memorization would finally occur. While most were gracious and gladly sat through my speech, I am sure there were some that probably got a little tired of listening to them, but they indulged.

One weekend in particular stands out for me more than any other. I was staying over at my grandmother’s house and she had set aside time for us to keep working on the memorization part. Unfortunately, at this same time I also had a massive toothache that was greatly affecting my thinking and all I wanted to do was quit. There were no dentists working on the weekend and I was going to have to endure until we could get to one on Monday. The contest was two weeks away and I can remember her conversation with me as if it were yesterday. She reminded me that there would be times in my life where present situations would not always be perfect to try and accomplish what I wanted to do. I may at any given time be dealing with pain, raw emotions, uncomfortable circumstances or other outside influences that would keep me from focusing on my intended goal. It is in those times that I would need to dig deep for an inner strength to get through the current situation and that I was to never take my eyes off of the ultimate objective. At the time, it didn’t make much sense as I dealt with my tooth pain. However, as I look back at that moment that may have seemed to be so simple, it actually would become a catalyst for how I would deal with future situations.

I went on to win the oratorical contest at the local, district and regional level and came in second at state finals. Today, when things seem to be dire, I go back to that moment and my conversation with my grandmother and I dig a little deeper to find the inner strength to get through whatever I may be facing. Growing up we often fail to see that parents and grandparents often know best until much later in life. Seniors have a wealth of information to help guide and shape us if we only we will listen. How often do we not stop and listen and later in life wish we had?

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.


Grandma Lola: The Sponge

IMG_7267One of the hardest things about dealing with a loved one who has dementia is the moment when you see them for the first time and they don’t recognize you. You look into their eyes and search deep into their soul and try to come up with something, anything that will help make them remember. Sometimes you get a nugget, sometimes you don’t, but inevitably you get to the point where the memory is no longer there on the outside and you take comfort in the fact that somewhere on the inside you still exist.

I would say that it was a good five years before my grandmother passed that she started showing signs that we didn’t immediately recognize. Mood changes and behaviors that were out of the norm started to pop up. Grandma was always opinionated and if she had something to say she said it, so it was often hard to tell if some action was just her being her, but in a little different way. You can look back and ask yourself why you didn’t see it. However, unless you have lived it, understanding why isn’t readily apparent. However, this story isn’t about recognizing the signs, it is about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves once you know.

Poignant moments will arise that are so important to take advantage of, for they will present you with an opportunity to create a memory that will last a lifetime. One of those moments for me was about a week before my grandmother passed. At that point, she had pretty much stopped eating and drinking, but true to form for her, she was still up in her wheelchair. She was not one to lay in her bed if she didn’t have to. That was the strength and resolve that she always showed. When I arrived for a visit, I found out that although she was refusing food and had a hard time swallowing, occasionally she would take water from a sponge just to keep her mouth wet. An opportunity for a moment that I seized because at that point in the process you find anything that you can to hold on to.

The nurses sat my grandmother in a chair outside her room and I got a cup of water and a little round sponge on a stick. The sponge had ridges on it that made it easier to bite down on to be able to extract the water. As long as I would give it to her, she would suck on the sponge and drink. Once we were finished, she took her hand and placed it on mine. This was one of the most beautiful experiences that I ever shared with my grandmother and it still makes me smile.

I believe that there is no greater love than being able to care for someone who cared for you unconditionally. Dealing with her dementia in the three years that she was in the nursing home instilled the passion in me that drives what I do today. I learned that there are so many out there dealing with the same thing. I also learned that the most important thing we can do is remember that although they may not be there in mind, they are still people, they are still there and most of all they know that we are there as well.

My point of the story is this: No matter what you do in life, sometimes we only get one opportunity to create a memory and it is so incredibly important to seize on that opportunity when it presents itself. You can make those opportunities into anything you want. Trust me, turning them into wonderful happy memories, despite the circumstance, will give you something to cherish.  I don’t look at these pictures and cry, I look at them and smile. Why? Because I know that somewhere up there she is looking down on me and smiling and saying, “I taught you well and you listened.”

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.


Over the next week

Growing up, most kids spent their time playing and hanging out with friends. While I certainly did my share of that, I also had the opportunity to have a different experience that led me to what we do today.

My grandmother raised three children on her own starting in the 1940’s. No easy task given the time period and the situation. I was the first grandchild and lived in the same town as my grandmother, so naturally a bond formed between us that would last a lifetime. As a result, I spent a lot of time with her when I was growing up.

My grandmother worked a full-time job, but in the evenings, she spent a lot of time going around town visiting the shut-ins, elderly and those that were not well. She would bring them one of her special cakes (more on that in another story) and I would often accompany her. While she visited, I would either be a part of the conversation or work on my homework, but somehow, I was always included.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that she was instilling in me a sense of responsibility and service early on that would follow me throughout my life. Her passion for giving back and taking care of others knew no bounds and it isn’t surprising that her late life bout with dementia led to this program that we are all a part of.

I am going to be on vacation until Memorial day, so until that time I am going to be reposting a series of stories each day that I wrote last year about my grandmother, the inspiration for this program. Hopefully, they will be new to many of you. For those that have read them before, I hope that you enjoy reading the stories again. I will be taking some down time to recharge and be ready to go full force again when I return.  Until then,  remember to be the reason someone smiles.


Just the Right Time

As most of you know, Renee manages our home mailing program. Throughout the year she sends thousands of cards and packages to seniors just to remind them that they are thought about and cared for and to recognize special occasions like birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. She shares messages with me that we receive back that are beautiful and heartwarming and often say that her cards and packages arrived at just the right time. This got me to thinking (boy I think a lot).

As we go through life and our daily routines, we encounter people in all type of settings and situations. Many are people that we know and many are people that we do not. Most of the time when we encounter these individuals, we have no idea what is going on at that particular moment in their life. They could be dealing with a stressful situation, something tragic could have happened recently or they may be at a crossroads in their own lives. Often we may think the person is mean or rude without fully understanding their situation at that particular moment.

Our interaction with them may come at just the right time to help them through the very situation they are dealing with, without us even realizing it. Do we ever stop to think that we didn’t happen upon that situation by chance, but rather that there was a guiding hand placing us there at that very moment for a reason? How we react and act in the course of that encounter has a profound effect on not only ourselves but the person we are interacting with.

Renee and I were exchanging emails last night and were talking about the fact that our hand is guided in the program by a much higher power than us. Her mail seems to arrive at just the right time. Our deliveries seem to happen at just the right time. We put a card in a senior’s hand at just the right time. That doesn’t all happen by chance.

As you go through your day and you encounter people, take a moment before judging the situation and consider that we have no idea what those we encounter may be going through at any given moment. Show the compassion and understanding that we would want for ourselves and make it an opportunity for a positive experience for both parties. It may be that your being placed in that situation, no matter how uncomfortable, that might be just the right time for that person and you.

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles.


“We do what we have to do”

As an aging society, there is a lot of focus being placed on the fact that our senior population is going to get much larger as the baby boomer generation moves into their later years. Being one of those people, I have a keen focus on that particular issue. Unfortunately, there are some that will be faced with the added responsibility of becoming care givers, especially as we continue to deal with such a rising rate of Alzheimers and dementia, not to mention other debilitating diseases.

There is so much time spent on caring for those afflicted with these terrible diseases, that sometimes the very people that we lose sight of are the care givers themselves. Anyone who hasn’t experienced that responsibility first hand, or had a parent or friend that has had to shoulder that responsibility, may not quite understand exactly the toll that it takes on the care giver themselves.

My grandmother lived with my parents for over 30 years. It was in the last 5 years of her life that she developed dementia. She started showing signs much earlier, we just didn’t recognize them. My mom was determined to take care of her until the end. When she kept trying to run away, my mom slept on the floor at the foot of her bed every night to ensure that she stayed safe. She was with her constantly to make sure that she was cared for. It was only when she became combative and became a danger to herself and others that the family had to make the decision every family dreads to put her into care. Even then, my mom and dad were there every day, made sure she was clean, had a decorated room and all the comforts of home. My mom always said, “we do what we have to do”.

A year and a half after my grandmother passed, the family would do it all over again for my mom’s younger brother who passed very quickly from dementia as well near 70 years old. He was not in a community close to home, so trips out of town were added to the routine. Once again my mom said, “we do what we have to do”.

I have friends that used to be available to go out to dinner on a moments notice that now work their regular jobs and spend their evenings and weekends taking care of their elderly parent. I spent seven years of my relationship alone every other weekend so that my significant other could go down and take care of a father with Parkinson’s so the sister could get a break from taking care of him all week. We did that because we “do what we have to do”.

Care givers are the unsung heroes in these situations. The devotion and love that they show is unmeasurable. The pieces of their life that they give up so that others can be cared for and the unselfish way in which they do it are one one of the beautiful things in life that rarely gets celebrated. They often run themselves into the ground, sometimes to the detriment of their own health so that others can be cared for.

People may look up to sports stars, movies stars or others in the entertainment world as their heroes. These are my heroes. These are the people that give so that others can have. These are the people that show true love, compassion and dedication even though they are dealt a hand that they didn’t ask for. These are the people that “do what we have to do” and today I salute them and thank them for showing humanity what it is all about.

Remember to be the reason someone smiles today.


Beauty Within

Written April 18, 2018


They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The pictures I took last night on my way home are a prime example of beauty at it’s finest. Whereas with most things, beauty is often defined in many ways depending on the circumstance and situation, and sometimes doesn’t get to the core of what real beauty is all about.

Years ago when I was in the Air Force, we were contacted by the Ms. Florida Association asking for a group of Airmen that would be willing to be escorts for contestants at an upcoming pageant that was being held in Tampa, FL. Obviously, it didn’t take long to fill up that list and soon we are on our way to the event. When we were walked to the prep room where we would meet the ladies that we would be escorting, a sense of excitement was shared amongst the group. The doors opened and there they were.

What we were met with was not what you would have expected in the traditional sense of a beauty pageant. All of these women were in wheelchairs. We had been invited to be escorts for contestants in the Ms. Florida Wheelchair Pageant. There were women of all ages in beautiful gowns, with beautiful hair and make-up. The only difference was that they were in wheelchairs.

Immediately, we had to throw out societal norms and focus on the job at hand and were introduced to each woman that we would be escorting for the night. Any thought that this night would be different than any other pageant quickly melted away as we spoke and bonded with our assigned contestant. You see, the beauty of their passion, their drive and their acceptance that they were no different than anyone else as a person quickly resonated with all of us and we were determined to do everything possible to help our contestant win.

As we went through the night I was taken back by the stories that each contestant told in their prepared remarks. I was enthralled with their answers to questions they were asked. I was amazed by their poise, talent and bravery as they embraced their situation and made their lives better for it. That in itself was beauty personified.

In some ways we have come to think of beauty as what we see on the cover of a glamour magazine, a model walking down a runway or a star on the red carpet. While they may all signify features that may be beautiful, in the end it doesn’t encompass what beauty is as a whole. Beauty is created from the heart. It is when you leave someone and you feel better for having been in their presence. It’s when they radiate goodness, caring and compassion. True beauty is when you embrace who you are, love yourself and strive to make your world a little better place.

That night was a defining moment for me. I stayed in contact with my contestant for many years. She didn’t win, but in my heart she was a winner as was every woman who rode across that stage. Take a few moments today and remind yourself of your beauty. It’s there…just embrace it and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.


Getting Started

Written April 20, 2018


We made it. Another week behind us and time for a little weekend relaxation and fun. Do you ever have those mornings where you wake up in bed and you just don’t want to move yourself from the covers and plant two feet on the floor to get started? You had a good night’s sleep, but for some reason the motivation just isn’t there to take that first step and you lay there just a little longer.

When that happens to me, and it did this morning, I try and focus on all the possibilities of the day. I received this gift of another day of life and I start to wonder just what this day is going to bring. When I was playing Mah Jongg with my good friend Fern last night, I commented that one of the things I love about the game is that after you have picked your tiles, every start of the game is a new possibility. There are 152 tiles and the variations that could come up with those tiles when you turn them over is what keeps the game interesting. So it is with our day.

When we wake up each day we are going to be presented with many choices that life is going to throw our way. Just like those tiles, life is going to present us with many possible variations of a day. It is how we pick and choose how those variations will make our day that will determine what state we are in when we finally fall back into bed in the evening.

I always question why work weeks seem to drag and weekends and vacations fly by. In reality, every day has 24 hours or 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. It is what we do with that gift of time that ultimately leaves us feeling either satisfied or dejected once those minutes have passed. Often a slow start can wind up in a fast finish, and that is what I try and do with my day each and every morning. Starting it writing to all of you is certainly motivation to get going.

Everyone is going to have a “down day” at some point or another. It is the nature of being human in the crazy world we live in. But if we make our choices wisely throughout the day, we can limit those down days and live a life that is full and rich and avoid wasting the precious moments that we are given.

So, if you are feeling a little lethargic this morning, focus on the possibilities that the gift of this day may offer. Find one thing you can do, either big or small, that will make you feel good. Buy a coffee for the person or car behind you, write just one card to a friend or a senior, take out the trash when you aren’t asked, phone a friend and remind them how much they are loved, or do something unique to you. When you go to bed tonight, focus on the day and all the opportunities you were presented, the choices you made and pat yourself on the back for making the most of the gift of the day you were given this morning.

Have a great weekend and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.



Written April 24, 2018


Last night I was thinking about expectations. Those that we put on ourselves, on other people and expectations about life in general. Often we have such a preconceived notion of what is supposed to happen, or what a person is supposed to do, that when the expectation isn’t met it ultimately causes disappointment.

When that happens to me I often sit back and try to evaluate exactly what my expectations were and why they weren’t met. The more I did that, the more I came to realize that setting expectations based on how I would handle a situation, often set me up for failure. Expecting others to deliver in exactly the same way I would was most likely unreasonable. We are different people that handle situations in different ways and the quickest way to set myself up for disappointment was to have an expectation that the person or situation deliver in the exact same way that I would.

Some people overachieve because that is their nature. Others deliver but in their own time and way. Some are just naturally born underachievers. I find if you take time to truly get to know the person and set expectations commensurate with their style, then disappointment becomes far more rare.

Equally important is the expectations we place on ourselves. I can’t tell you how often over the years I have applied unneeded pressure to myself by setting expectations that were just not deliverable. When I didn’t meet them, it often created self doubt and angst that I learned over the years was so unnecessary. We are not machines, we are humans with ever changing emotions and abilities and it is equally important to understand our limitations and set expectations for ourselves accordingly.

Sometimes, I find it helpful to create a prioritization list, whether mental or on paper. It contains all the things I expect to accomplish but buckets them in groups of importance. When I finish the ones that are the most important, I move on to the others and I am left with a feeling of satisfaction that the list is getting smaller rather than the pressure of trying to accomplish everything at once.

How we set and deliver expectations is truly a product of who we are. How we learn to adapt and alter those expectations is a product of the person we want to be. Dealing with the outside world takes more effort than it has in the past. So why place ourselves in a position of potential failure by setting unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others. I don’t believe in expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Setting an expectation that is deliverable and then delivering on it is far more satisfying.

Have a great day and remember to be the reason someone smiles today.


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