Michigan senior center says volunteer like family

Jordan Travis
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Traverse City — It doesn’t take long to see that 95-year-old Leda King is a beloved guest and volunteer at the Traverse City Senior Center.

You might spot her seated and sipping a cup of coffee another volunteer or staff member brought her — she’s there every weekday to help or just to visit. The friendliness they’ve shown her in her 25 years of helping out at the senior center is part of what keeps her coming back.

“You get to be part of like a family, you know? When you come every day,” she told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. “I love these people. Everybody brings me something all the time.”

King started helping in the senior center’s kitchen, cooking vegetables, washing dishes and serving lunch, she said. But she can’t get around as well as before, so now she does whatever she can handle. She typically helps by counting money after each lunch and helping with the bookkeeping. One day, she helped by wadding up some plastic shopping bags.

“Which is no biggie, but it has to be done,” she said.

Her husband, since deceased, helped change out lights and with other electrical chores, King said.

Coming to the senior center is part of King’s weekday routine, she said. Her granddaughter and grandchildren live with her, and her granddaughter gives her a ride each day at 9 a.m. after taking the kids to school. King then gets a ride home from her granddaughter at 3 p.m.

King and her husband adopted her granddaughter’s mother as a baby in the 1960s, she said. The couple also adopted a baby boy around then and fostered six more kids through the years.

Both King and her husband liked kids, and decided to adopt and become foster parents in part because of her husband’s time in the U.S. Coast Guard — he served during World War II.

“We didn’t want any kids, and then we came home and we didn’t have any kids,” she said.

The drive to help didn’t stop there. King would help her parents in their later years — they lived down the road and her dad would hang a red coat in the window when he needed her. She also cared for her mother after she had a stroke.

Volunteerism like King’s makes a huge difference to the Senior Center Network, not just in Traverse City but at all of its locations, said Lori Wells, the network’s manager. King and her husband were volunteering when Wells started at the senior center, and she saw how the two cared for the place like it was their second home.

King is one of 125 volunteers who help out with everything from administrative and clerical support to teaching classes the senior centers offer, Wells said. Volunteers help free up staff members so the senior centers can maximize their offerings.

Many of the volunteers are the same people who come to the senior centers for services, Wells said. Having a chance to help gives them a sense of purpose. King is more than just a volunteer — she’s more like family.

“That makes me feel good that she goes home at night feeling like she did something that helped someone else,” Wells said.