Former Local Teacher Anxious To Resume Golden Opportunities Volunteer Duties
As a lifelong educator, Newtown resident George Stockwell did not let retirement separate him from helping those interested in learning a thing or two.
Shortly after Stockwell capped his career with the Newtown school district, he began volunteering with the locally based Golden Opportunities (GO) organization. It was there — in pre-COVID days — that he was able to convene and share stories with local nursing home residents and seniors who had few or no family members around to keep them company.
Golden Opportunities works to enhance the quality of life for residents of eldercare facilities by providing outreach services of comfort, compassion, and support. The organization was established in 2006 serving two eldercare facilities in Fairfield County, and has partnered with more than two dozen nursing homes, retirement centers, and independent living communities in southern Connecticut and three in Maine.
All programs and activities are provided at no cost to the facilities or the participating residents.
“I really didn’t do much volunteering except for school-related activities before my retirement,” the former Sandy Hook Elementary teacher told The Newtown Bee during a recent chat. “But one day I ran into someone at my wife’s CPA office and they said they had an ideal volunteer opportunity for me, and so I signed up.”
Stockwell said his first assignments involved providing limited one-on-one social companionship for a few residents, as well as small groups of fellow veterans.
“I was assigned to the Lutheran Home in Southbury, another facility in Trumbull, and the facility that used to be Masonicare,” he stated, referring to the Newtown Rehabilitation & Health Care Center.
Fellow Golden Opportunities volunteer and now one of the agency’s leaders, Neil Callaghan, said he first met Stockwell in 2008.
“I began volunteering for GO that year, and I remember George as a quiet, modest IT expert who painstakingly created PowerPoint presentations on various subjects, including trips that he has made for sharing with the residents at the then-Ashlar/Masonicare facility,” Callaghan recalled.
Drawing Them Out
He said residents loved Stockwell’s “News of the World” sessions, and how he would draw them out with his dry sense of humor and calling attention to the many absurdities of what he had found in the news.
“He operated as a Johnny Carson-like MC, engaging all attendees with humor and laughter,” Callaghan said.
A former Vietnam-era Army artillery soldier, Stockwell said his assignment to travel to Southeast Asia came just weeks before his discharge, so he was able to complete his term of service in the states. But he always enjoys sharing stories with veterans, particularly the few World War II vets he befriended, all whom have since passed away.
“I found that talking about their times in the service really brought them out of their shell. They became much more active and verbal, friendships formed, it was a very, very valuable experience for me,” he said. “And I loved listening to their stories.”
After his time meeting almost exclusively with men either one-on-one or in groups, Stockwell eventually transitioned to leading discussions with a mix of residents at local care facilities and senior communities.
“I would bring a newspaper and we would go through all the various items,” he said. “That would prompt people to talk about various memories.”
That led him to develop a program focusing on various themes, prompting deeper discussions on various subjects of interest that were noted by those he was visiting.
“I would also bring in news that happened on the date I was visiting, and we would talk about those various events throughout history,” Stockwell said. “The internet has made it so much easier to access that historical information. They’d also ask me to research specific places; as a result, we’ve been all around the world together.”
He remembered that after one occasion when an audience member was been stung by a bee, he was asked to do a presentation on the differences between bees, hornets, wasps, and other stinging insects. And if there was spare time at the end of the planned discussion, Stockwell would play a few YouTube clips of old time comedy shows and routines from the likes of Abbot & Costello and popular I Love Lucy clips.
Moving It Outside
Even after COVID-19 began significantly impacting the facilities and residents he knew, Stockwell said he mustered on, holding sessions outdoors, weather permitting.
Callaghan said all the residents loved Stockwell and the learning and laughter experiences he brought along with him during each visit.
“Given his technical expertise, he is pursuing the implementation of his activities for the residents through Zoom so he can continue to offer residents a fun and engaging experience,” Callaghan said.
“I can’t wait until when I can be back with them in person,” Stockwell said.
“As George is doing, Golden Opportunities has pivoted and developing alternate means to deliver our support to our residents,” Callaghan said. “We are sponsoring/underwriting ‘Sweet Treats’ on occasion, where we deliver ice cream, cider donuts and cider, and cupcakes to our partner facilities.”
For the holidays, GO volunteers created more than 250 handmade snowflakes and Christmas cards for residents at Newtown Rehabilitation, Saint John Paul in Danbury, and Notre Dame in Norwalk.
“We are also communicating with more residents via mail and by phone, in lieu of our personal programs,” Callaghan said.
Stockwell added that there are many ways to volunteer.
“Some people keep telling me to relax and enjoy my retirement,” Stockwell said. “But I try to impress upon them that I get as much out of it as the people I serve. It’s good for both of us, and I can’t say enough about the experience and the good work that Golden Opportunities does.”