If you or someone you love is at least 70 years old and finds themselves alone, have we got a news story for you! For 53 years, “Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly” has been bringing friendship to isolated and lonely seniors in the Chicago area.
And as WGN’s Steve Sanders reports, not just during the holidays, but every day of the year.
“ You look so gorgeous!” That’s how volunteer Christian Baucum greets Ms. Leona Allgood. “Well that’s because I am,” says Allgood with a twinkle in her eye.
Leona is 93, lives alone, and is meeting Christian for the first time. She just graduated from college, is 22, and a full time volunteer for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly. This is them getting to know each other. “My name is Christian.” “Christian.” “Yes ma’am.” “I’m Leona.” “Leona.” “Mind if we sit and have a little visit?” “I would love it.” “When you’re placed with the right elder it’s magical!,” says Christian. “ You don’t have to have a certain set of skills. All you have to do is want to be there.” Christian has brought Leona a box of chocolates from her wish list. Leona unwraps the gift and offers one to her new friend. – “Mmmm.” “Ya all have one.” “No, those are yours. “ As outgoing as she is, Leona gets lonely. “There are times that I feel isolated because I never had a sister or a brother. I’m the only child. People need people. They don’t have to do this. And they come like angels.”
These nuns have come to Little Brothers headquarters at 355 North Ashland to tackle the first mountain of hand selected gifts. Hand decorated shopping bags from Chicago school children will hold the gifts and meals delivered to hundreds of seniors this holiday season. Simone Mitchell-Peterson is CEO of Little Brothers. “We exist to relieve loneliness and isolation among elderly people in Chicago.” Little Brothers started in France after World War II when so many had lost loved ones. She describes loneliness as a huge and growing problem in our country.
“Our elders are no different than you and I sitting here. They had careers, they had families, they didn’t plan to grow old alone, it sort of just happened.” Bob Zimmermann is a character who stays active and makes friends easily. He opens several gifts Little Brothers volunteer Michael Nugent has brought him. “Oh here’s another German book. They wayward pursuit of German’s.” (big laugh) But Bob misses the gourmet dinner club he and his wife once belonged to. At 83, he’s the only one of twelve in that group still alive. He calls loneliness among the elderly, “dangerous.” “We’ve had a couple of suicides in the past year. They just don’t see any reason for living.”
Bob’s 89 year old friend recently fell and broke her hip. But it was the story of how it happened that broke his heart. “And she said I’ll tell you because you’re a friend. But I deliberately tripped on a rug so somebody would care about me.” Michael Nugent has been volunteering for Little Brothers for 37 years. “I really feel that the organization helps people have a better life and have a better reason to live each day.” Nugent started volunteering for the non-profit organization in high school. Bob loves his company. “When Michael calls me or any of the other volunteers. You know, I’m thrilled when they want to come over and visit with me. “ Michael says the feeling is mutual. “You see how you touch hearts but more importantly they touch my heart.” Back to Leona and Christian. “These folks are amazing individuals that society has just forgotten.” Mitchell-Peterson says Little Brothers needs help not just two months of the year, but 12 months. “Take this good will and kind of make it last throughout the year by getting involved with somebody in your community, getting involved with Little Brothers.”
Leona is full of wisdom for Christian. “Did you know the sun wouldn’t shine this morning if you wasn’t here? She also wants Little Brothers to know their work is meaningful. “We can look forward to the holidays. And this program-Little Brothers is healing to the spirit. You can’t miss your family in this program because we are a family.”
Little Brothers has no income guidelines. As they like to put it, the heart doesn’t know what your bank account looks like. If you’re lonely, you’re lonely. Little Brothers has monthly birthday parties too. There’s a volunteer job for everyone whether you have a little or a lot of time give.