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Volunteering: Helping my future self

Peter and I have lived in San Francisco for seven years now, and it’s time for a summation, a look back. You might say I have a seven–year “itch” to explain the shape of the adventure we started in 2010.

When I left the East Coast to move from its double-boiler summer heat and elbow-crunching ice and snows, I had no idea what lay ahead. Neither my husband nor I had planned jobs; we had found an apartment on Lombard Street, but had no idea how all our stuff and our two dogs would fit into it. We were both filled with an excitement for the future, but had no idea what that future would realistically look like. We just knew we’d had enough of East Coast life, and wanted a clean slate on which to scribble a colorful and fulfilling future together.

I knew I wanted to write after 45 years as a professional actress, and Peter sensed something would come his way that would be right for him, either in the world of theater or in a totally new field of tech or business. We had the fresh open hearts of two pioneers, facing what looked to be a fertile desert to cross, a valley of possibility. And it’s been good — filled with beauty, fog, and swell weather.

Sure, we’ve encountered fears, illnesses, and disappointments. I’ve missed New York a little, but not at all like I thought I might. In fact, I’ve only been back once. Peter has been there more, on business. But, we fell in love with San Francisco before we even moved here, and we have not regretted our move. In fact, every time I see a palm tree in my new hometown, I still feel like I’m slightly on vacation. I see the bay and I relax; I go to the Pacific Ocean and feel at one with it. I’ve become a creature of San Francisco’s neighborhoods.

We like it here.

Peter is now the director of marketing and communications at one of the country’s finest, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and I’ve settled into the life of a writer with an ease I’d been preparing for all my early journal-writing days. I’ve not missed being on stage one iota, and that is the truth from my heart. I’ve settled into the time in my life where I see getting to know myself better as my main project. Who have I been all those years, performing for others behind the masks of so many roles? What is actually important to me, after the necessity and toil of needing to earn a living have gracefully slipped from my to-do list? I am fortunate because I get to spend this time finding out answers to those questions.

And one of those answers has come in the form of volunteering.

At the Institute on Aging there is a wonderful program called the Friendship Line, and I’m one of the “friends.” A form letter came in the mail one day, asking if I would like to volunteer, and instead of throwing it away — like I did so many of the requests I’d received — that letter stayed in my purse until it became creased and worn, and I finally called and said, “I’m ready.”

This Friendship Line engagement has deepened my life immeasurably.

After thorough and intensive training, including two full Saturdays of info gathering and hours-long observation sessions in the call center at 3575 Geary Boulevard, a Friendship Line volunteer is primed and ready to provide comfort, assistance, reassurance, and useful information to the thousands who call in from across the country yearly. The Institute on Aging Friendship Line is the only line whose main focus is helping the elderly in this country and around the world.

Crisis calls, including suicide intervention, elder abuse, and other forms of distress are fielded daily, and the hotline is open 24/7. There is also what they call a Warm Line, for people who are lonely and just want to talk. There is out-calling to regulars who need checking in on, along with the daily number of calls that come in from everywhere. It is a busy volunteer help line.

It is a most amazing place to volunteer, and every time I walk into the institute, I feel empowered by the kindness and loving service I see all around me.

The man who trained me and for whom I have the greatest respect is a delightful fellow named Timothy Riel, and if you want to get in touch with him — if you’ve an interest in volunteering and being trained under his special care — by all means call him at 415-750-4136, or contact him at [email protected].

Meanwhile, I’m off for my volunteer session and I’m excited to hear from the people who need our help. I hope I can provide what they’re looking for. I feel privileged to be able to help them.

If you need to call the Institute on Aging Friendship Line, that number is 800-971-0016, or visit and find what you might need there.


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