Maureen Gazaille of Edgartown is named state volunteer of the year

Windemere volunteer Maureen Gazaille (left) helped her friend Beverley Brush celebtare her 80th birthday with a biplane ride in the Red Baron at Katama airport. — Photo Courtesy of Betsy Burmeist

Service to others has an odd effect on us: we feel better and we gain gratitude and humility in our own lives. Perhaps that’s why Maureen Gazaille said she felt “shocked and embarrassed” to be selected as Massachusetts volunteer of the year from several thousand volunteers at the state’s 426 nursing homes.

Ms. Gazaille, a volunteer for the past 10 years at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Oak Bluffs, was awarded the designation by the Massachusetts Certified Activity Planners (MASSCAP) at a ceremony in Leominster on October 18.

Betty Burmeister, director of recreation at Windemere, nominated Ms. Gazaille. Ms. Burmeister said the honor is well-deserved.

“Maureen does so much for the residents here,” Ms. Burmeister said. “Initially she did transport services for us, helping residents get from their rooms to the activity and dining area, located one floor below the residential floor.”

Ms. Gazaille first came to Windemere 10 years ago when she was driving an elderly friend to a rehabilitation session.

“While she was waiting, she noticed a lot of activity on the floor transporting residents and she asked if she could help,” Ms. Burmeister recalled. “That friend has since passed and Maureen has made a relationship with another resident. Maureen shows up every Sunday to visit Beverly. Maureen does thoughtful things, takes her to Falmouth on her birthday for Chinese food.”

She added with a chuckle, “Maureen and Beverly have even taken a biplane ride.”

Ms. Gazaille, owner of Moses in the Bulrushes landscaping firm, has used her skills to beautify the grounds and contribute to the larger Windemere community. “A few years ago, we received a grant for a landscape garden. Maureen, a landscaper, not only cares for the garden but she’s organized a residents’ garden club so that residents who choose to can work in the garden and on the 12 window flower boxes as well,” Ms. Burmeister said.

Reached by phone this week, Ms. Gazaille said that she was “shocked and kind of embarrassed by the honor.”

Ms. Gazaille said that she receives more than she gives from the residents. “How does it feel to do this work?” she said. “I don’t know why, but I do know that if I’m having a bad day, I walk in there and instantly feel better — and grateful.

“It’s made me appreciate what I have and that I don’t need to be in a bad mood. I actually feel like I’m funny when I’m around them, telling a little story and seeing them laugh. Believe me, I get 100 percent more from the residents than I’m able to give to them.

“You know people say, ‘Oh, that volunteer work must be depressing.’ I don’t feel that way. You can make them feel better, make their day. I’m a landscaper and there is no work in winter, so I have time to talk with them. Some of these people are 90 years old and they have a wealth of history and knowledge. And if no one hears their stories, then when they are gone, those stories will be lost. I would recommend that anyone who has some spare time, even a minute of spare time, go in and volunteer.

“Living in the moment with the residents, just feels really good. We all have to give back, and, hopefully, someone will be nice to me when I’m old and need someone to make me laugh or say something nice to me.”

Ms. Gazaille said the volunteers have a lot of fun. She said Betsy Burmiester comes up with great activities and is tireless.

“At the award luncheon, Betsy and I were sitting with a group of activity directors,” Ms. Gazaille said. “Many of them only have a handful of volunteers, some don’t have any volunteers. Betsy’s recruited 114 volunteers. She’s got to be the best activity director in the state. In fact, I think I’ll nominate her for MASSCAP’s best activity director next year.”

For more information on volunteering at Windemere, call 508-862-1933.