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Top senior stories 2011

Posted: December 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.

SCV Senior Center volunteer home food delivery driver Jackie Cortes counts the meals in her truck at the SCV Senior Center, which are ready for delivery to seniors, in September.

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“Hope I die before I get old.”

Remember that line from “My Generation” by The Who? I bet Roger Daltrey is singing a different tune nowadays, considering he’s a senior himself.

I know I am. At 42, I may not reach AARP status for a little while, but I have had the pleasure of surrounding myself with people of a certain age as The Signal’s Senior Living reporter for the last few years.

Many of the seniors I’ve written about are inspiring. They meet life’s daily challenges with grace, despite not being in the best physical shape. They give of themselves unselfishly to help others, whether it’s a spouse, a friend or a perfect stranger. They are hungry to learn new things and eager to continue experiencing the world around them.

In meeting them and sharing their stories, I can see beyond the wrinkles to the true beauty of getting older: wisdom, confidence, camaraderie and caring.

Then there are the senior caregivers, volunteers and advocates, many of whom are part of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. From providing sustenance through home-delivered meals or teaching the power of positive thinking, these everyday heroes help a part of the population that often need it the most. It’s a beautiful thing.

So, instead of dreading getting older, I’ve decided to embrace it. With these people as my example, I think anything is possible at any age. That’s a gift I’ll always be grateful for.

Here are my favorite senior moments of 2011.
‘The impact of optimism’
Dec. 12
Attitude is everything. It’s a popular saying and one Michael Holt, Ph. D, a hypnotherapist and neurolinguistics expert, believes in wholeheartedly. So do the attendees at his Power of Positive Thinking class every Thursday afternoon at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall.

Holt began teaching the class four years ago at the behest of his wife, who works in senior care.  “My original focus was on helping children. She said I should help seniors as well,” he said. “The whole challenge is getting rid of the limiting beliefs that we can’t do something or that getting old is a negative.”

Linda Hays, of Saugus, started attending about a year ago after hearing about the class from the center’s supportive services department.

“This has changed my life. Dr. Holt’s an incredible person, very positive and motivating. I just love coming here,” said Hays, who suffers from various disabilities. “If I think about things a different way, I can change my outlook.”

Exuberant and animated, Holt’s hourlong class is open to questions and answers throughout and heavily rooted in philosophy.

Once a sales manager by profession, Holt had to refocus his priorities after a serious car accident in his 30s accident with a traumatic brain injury and the inability to articulate clearly.

“Doctors told me that I may never get my brain back or speak or recover,” Holt said. “I thought, ‘You can’t tell me this is the end.’ I did everything I could to prove them wrong.”

Frank Marion, of Saugus, has been in a better place since his first Power of Positive Thinking class six months ago. Now he’s a regular. “I like it so much, I tell everyone the only way I’ll miss this class is if I’m sick, on vacation or dead,” Marion said. “It helps me handle problems, adjust to situations and live my life.”

‘Help for the homebound’
Nov. 17
For years, Helen Silver attended the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. It was convenient to her home in Castaic, and she enjoyed the classes, camaraderie and travel. After almost a quarter-century in Castaic, Silver and her husband moved to Thousand Oaks. Shortly thereafter, Sidney Silver died, leaving Helen Silver alone in a senior living apartment complex.

“I’m only out of my house one or two days a week. There are things here to keep me busy, but not enough,” Silver said. “I have arthritis. I don’t like going on the bus. Mostly, I’m in my room, alone.”

Across the state in San Francisco, Silver’s daughter Claire heard about a nonprofit that might help her mother. Called Senior Center Without Walls, the free service offers seniors a chance to take classes and participate in group discussions over the phone from the privacy of their homes.

Every day, Silver, 83, calls in on the toll-free number to at least one group.

“It’s like a lifeline, to hear those voices. It’s something I look forward to,” Silver said.

Started by Terry Englehart seven years ago, Senior Center Without Walls was adopted by Episcopal Senior Communities as a nondenominational program in 2009. Seniors are welcome to call in from throughout the state for the free service, which lists its daily programs online at

“There are 12-week sessions, and we do have something every single day of the year, including holidays,” Englehart said.
“The holidays can be particularly difficult for those who don’t have others in their lives. They see the TV ads of people having fun and think back to happier times. With our programs, seniors can feel warmth and friendship. Even though it’s on the phone, it’s a powerful tool.”

‘Hot food, warm hearts’
Oct. 3
Spaghetti and meatballs are on the menu today, which makes the clients along Jackie Cortes’ Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Home Delivered Meals route very happy.

“I love spaghetti,” said Ray Acosta , 88, who waited in his garage for Cortes’ arrival on a late Thursday morning. “This is often the only meal I get. It helps me. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would eat.”

Acosta is one of more than 300 Santa Clarita Valley seniors who rely on a hot meal delivered to their door up to five days a week. The Home Delivered Meals program is funded by state, federal and local grants, and private donations. While there’s a suggested donation of $3 per meal, clients are not required to contribute financially. No one is turned away.

In her eight years as a volunteer driver, Cortes has become close to her clientele. She brings two biscuits for Roxy, the dog of Canyon Country’s Manny Denault, 73, who waits patiently for Cortes inside a gated mobile-home porch.

“I used to go days without eating, because I don’t have the strength to make myself something,” Denault said. “I think the food is great, but the people who deliver it are even better. They are very special people. Everyone talks to me and they all love my dog.”

The feeling’s mutual for Cortes. “I get more back from doing this than I ever give. Just knowing that you bring joy to people is special. A lot of them live alone and don’t see or have anyone,” she said. “Bringing meals to seniors allows them to stay in their homes and be as independent as possible.”

‘Valencia pair builds homes in Nepal’
July 25
If Mary “Molly” Hodson, 69, of Valencia, had her way, every American teenager would visit a third-world country. She’s starting with her granddaughter Kayla Hodson, 16, a junior at Hart High School.

The duo traveled to Nepal in June as part of the nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for impoverished populations throughout the world. 

“It gives you a view of life you never see as tourists,” Molly Hodson said

For Molly Hodson, who’s previously led trips to Honduras, Guatamela and many other South American countries, it was the generous spirit of the Nepalese, in addition to her granddaughter’s presence, that made this particular trip so special.

“They’re so willing to share. If they have two tacos, they’ll give you one, even if it’s all they have,” she said.
That spirit resonated with Kayla Hodson, as well.

“The Nepalese seemed to really appreciate what they have, unlike (America), where everyone just lusts for what they don’t have,” she noted.

For Kayla, coming home was as much of a shock as the sights and sounds she saw while traveling with her grandmother.

“I was used to dirt floors with no running water, so I was kind of starstruck to have running water and a nice, soft bed again. The first night back in my bed, I thought, ‘This is the life,” Kayla said.

Kayla will travel again next June with her grandmother, this time to Argentina, as a volunteer.

Meanwhile, Molly Hodson, a semi-retired real estate agent, planned for a solo Habitat for Humanity in October to El Salvador.

“As long as these old bones work, even if they’re creaky, I will keep doing this,” she said.

‘Friendship found after 70 years’
March 28
In 1941, they were teenagers, two seniors from the last graduating class at Los Angeles High School to know peacetime before World War II broke out.

In 2011, they were widows, reunited by a twist of fate.

Theresa Hauge and Roma Prior were enjoying lunch several months ago at Summerhill Villa in Newhall, where they both reside, when a mutual friend pointed out to Prior that Hauge went to Los Angeles High, too.

They hadn’t seen each other in 70 years.

“I didn’t recognize her at first, but I was really happy,” Prior said. “We were friends, but not best friends in school.”

“We were in different groups, but we knew a lot of the same people,” Hauge said. “It was a lot of fun to realize how much we had in common later on.”

Both Hauge and Prior became widows in 2007. Hauge had lived at Summerhill Villa since 2004, while Prior moved in the building in 2008.

In order to be with family, which includes two daughters and four grandchildren, Hauge moved to Memphis, Tenn., at the end of March.

The distance won’t break up their rekindled friendship, however.

“We’re pals now,” Prior said.

“Yes we are,” Hauge said. “I look in the mirror, and I don’t think we’re older at all.”


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