The Greatest Gift of Shepherd’s Centers

Over the holidays, my family engaged in the tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life. You know the story; George Bailey manages The Building and Loan his father started but which he never had an interest in working for in his hometown where he never wanted to live. George faces financial disaster and possible arrest when the bank examiner discovers a missing deposit (Uncle Billy unknowingly gives the company’s bank deposit to the ever-scheming Mr. Potter, who secretly keeps the money.) Distraught, George gets drunk and finds himself on a bridge, contemplating killing himself.  

Clarence Odbody, George’s guardian angel, enters the story. Clarence takes George on a journey through his life, the dreams and opportunities that passed him by, as he stays true to a commitment to family and community. His sees how friends have taken different and often worse paths through life due to his absence. This journey through time shows George what life would have been like if he had never existed. The experience renews George’s passion for life, and, in turn, sparks an outpouring of love and benevolence from his many friends and neighbors in the small community—proving that George is “the richest man in town.”  

It’s been a joy to observe my growing children reflect on the meaning of this movie over the years. And it got me thinking, what would our communities be like without a Shepherd’s Center? 

How would older adults continue living in their own homes where they must want to be?

How would they get around town? Who would drive them to medical appointments? To the grocery store?

How would they connect with friends and enjoyable activities? 

How might they find meaning and purpose when society isolates and marginalizes older adults?

Shepherd’s Centers foster strong relationships among older adults and the community, friendships that make for a happy life. The 85-year-long Harvard study on Adult Development documents that more than wealth, I.Q., or social class, the robustness of our bonds determines whether we feel fulfilled. When so many in society discount and reject older adults, Shepherd’s Centers offer one of the greatest gifts—friendship. 

If we could watch our lives unfold like George or imagine our communities without people like George—or without Shepherd’s Centers—we would say that relationships with others and the community give life meaning. In fact, loneliness kills. Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes. Life is indeed wonderful with good relationships to keep us healthier and happier. 

In 2023, let’s plan on creating more friendships and more happiness with expanded and enhanced Shepherd’s Center programs. 

Thank you for being a friend and connecting older adults to your community. 

Sarah Cheney

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