The mail lady calls

Doris Gaffney
Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is lucky to have volunteers like Doris Gaffney. With a smile, she delivers the mail and visits residents. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Betsy Burmeister - January 18, 2007

Every afternoon you can find Doris Gaffney, mail in hand, visiting the residents of Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She is the "Mail Lady," delivering cards and letters, and reading to some residents, visiting with others. Everywhere she goes she brings joy.

Ms. Gaffney came to the Vineyard in 1998 shortly after her husband had died. She came for two weeks to visit her daughter and decided to make Martha's Vineyard her home. Ms. Gaffney's daughter and son-in-law owned two bike shops on the Island. Every day Ms. Gaffney took bikes and brought them to their destinations around the Island. When the shops closed in the fall she decided to volunteer at the Anchors Social Day Program in Edgartown. She also worked at the Black Dog, opening up at 5 am and serving coffee, muffins and donuts. Ms. Gaffney is not one to sit still for long. She has also volunteered for Ducks Unlimited, worked with Marianne Larned who authored the "Stone Soup" books and raised $3,000 for the garden at Woodside, where she resides.

Still, Ms. Gaffney wanted to do more. One of her friends, Jean Hanley, volunteered in the Gift Shop at the hospital and invited her to lunch. Ms. Gaffney's initiation had begun. Jean left for California and Ms. Gaffney took her place. After three years in the Gift Shop Ms. Gaffney decided to move on. She wanted more activity and resident interaction. So, over to Windemere she came.

Beverly Brush and Doris Gaffney
It's an exciting time for Beverly Brush, left, when the Mail Lady arrives.

While she was living in Fitchburg, Ms. Gaffney had many opportunities to experience nursing homes. Her mother, father and her husband, as well as other relatives, all at one time or another lived in a nursing home. "My experiences with nursing homes were nothing like Windemere. The staff at Windemere always has smiles on and always say thank you. They listen to the residents and try to fill their needs. It's a happy place."

Ms. Gaffney encourages everyone with an hour or two to spare to volunteer. "No matter what your age, you can sit and visit with people. I'm just an old lady of 87; it makes me feel younger to be here. The programs are wonderful, from music to the Ice Cream Social. It's a lot of fun and you get a free lunch at the cafeteria (with a volunteer coupon)."

Some of the people she has met have stated their concerns about volunteering in a nursing home, feeling that it would be depressing. "I never leave here depressed. When someone passes away, they're at peace. They're another angel up there."

Ms. Gaffney is busy every minute of the day. She has recently gone through training and became a Hospice volunteer. "Hospice people are wonderful," she says.

Having one daughter in Edgartown and one daughter in Arizona, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren from California to the East Coast, Ms. Gaffney feels she has been blessed. All in her family have very active lives, and Ms. Gaffney is proud of each one of them. The days can be long when your family is grown and you have time on your hands, but for Ms. Gaffney "there is no time to be lonely. My second family resides at Windemere, Martha's Vineyard Hospital and with Hospice. I love coming here. Everyone is so nice, thanking me all the time. They're happy to see me!"

She would like more people to consider volunteering. Ms. Gaffney said, "Whatever time anyone spends here you'll find you take away more than you give".

Betsy Burmeister is the director of activities at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. For more information on volunteer opportunities, call 508-696-6465, ext. 722.