Irene Zola is the New York City based Executive Director of Lifeforce in Later Years and Coordinator of Morningside Village volunteers. She helps connect seniors to the services they need at home or in the larger community. For her efforts, CNN selected her as a CNN Hero.
Sam's Dream Blog: What’s your dream for L-i-L-Y? How did your dream originate?
Irene Zola: LiLY's national mission is to increase the inclusion of older seniors into the life of the family, the community, the culture. I would like to see us all spending even an hour each week with someone in their nineties or even older. This would make a huge difference in the lives of those who ?as things stand?are too often neglected. The dream began when I was taking care of my own 97-year-old mom, who was incapacitated and had to spend her last days in a nursing home. There, some of the hundreds of people would call out, "help", "take me to my room", "get me out of here", "I have no one". Most were quietly idling away the day in their wheelchairs with little encouragement and without the resources to get the help they needed. It was an awakening as to how ?in modern times with families often living at great distances from oldest relatives?we are surely not honoring those who taught and encouraged us. I wanted to change all of that.
SDB: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Irene Zola: Founding and helping to create Morningside Village, a volunteer-based elder-care program in Manhattan, has been very gratifying. This signature program, where older seniors are served completely free of charge, is a model for communities across the land. LiLY has also initiated a visibility campaign and Love an Elder Day, a day of celebration on October 1 during the week of the UN's International Day to Celebrate Older Persons. I am very proud of this step toward changing the culture. We hope nonagenarians and centurions will be celebrated on Oct. 1 and everyday!
SDB: What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges to realizing your dream? What advice do you have for others in pursuit of their dreams?
Irene Zola: One obstacle to LiLY's work is that we are living in a youth-based culture and at a time when families are often far away. Thus, the biggest obstacle has been money, of course! With more money, we would be able to better nationalize Love an Elder Day through hiring employees, increasing partnerships and buying media. We could also do outreach to other communities, mentoring leaders to carry out the mission of integrating our elders into the lives of younger generations.
When founding Lifeforce in Later Years, I made of list of all the possible programs that might help to change the lives of older seniors for the better. Then, I settled on the one that I was able to begin with the few resources at hand. I asked a local place of worship for a free meeting place; I made a flyer inviting folks to a meeting, and printed it at home; borrowed a collapsable table and folding chair; got a nice looking friend to come along, and went out to Broadway, handing out flyers and talking about my idea to strangers. Having a friend along for support was important. And, I was on my way! I think the most important way to go forward for me was to collaborate, befriend, reach out, and talk it up.