I met Ray Griffiths back in 1960. We were both in grade 11. He was a nice guy, a good athlete and a real studier. I always had the feeling he was the kind of guy who took life seriously. After two years at St. Pat’s I moved over to Northern – for a reason I will only mention in public when I’m doing my standup bit at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, Michigan. And I only do it there because it usually gets a good laugh.
I met Ray again in 1964 at Western when we were both in our first year: he was at Huron and I was at The King. But Ray liked to study at the King so I ran into him in the library a few times. I took off for three years after that but Ray stayed the course, graduated and married his beautiful high-school sweetheart, Connie Wiles. They moved to Hamilton where he started a teaching career. Twenty-three years later – in 1987 – he returned to Sarnia as the principal of St. Pat’s.
By that time, I was through flogging Betamaxes and had moved on to DVDs. I was raising a family and my son was going to St. Pat’s. Ray and I met again and I remember telling him that Sister Ignatia – the sister of St. Joseph (nun) who ruled St. Pat’s (and was also the sister of the original Greg Hogan) – would be pleased to know that one of her favourite football players was now in command at her alma mater. I also told Ray that Sister Ignatia – or “Iggy” as we liked to call her when she wasn’t in the room – would roll over in her grave if she knew that on Wikipedia’s website, St. Pat’s most notable student was Phil Esposito: a guy she expelled.
Ray retired from St. Pat’s in 1999 and began to play an inordinate amount of golf - even for a Catholic. He and Connie have four kids and they have blessed them with 14 grandchildren. I asked him, “If I put pictures of all 14 of them in front of you right now, would you be able to name them?” He smiled and said, “I better be able to.” Can you imagine what that must be like just for birthdays and Christmas? Besides just trying to remember all the dates, I think the presents alone for that crew would be worth at least a month in Hawaii.
When we had our once-every-twenty-years-luncheon in January, I asked him what he did when he wasn’t playing golf. That’s when he told me about the Lambton Seniors Association, where he spends a lot of time working in their Handyman-Handywoman Program. Having been a senior for 20 years, I was somewhat surprised that I had never heard of the organization and especially this program.
Their motto is: Seniors Helping Seniors.
“What a great idea,” I thought.
The deal is this; if you are a senior 55+ and are retired or disabled, they will come and provide any reasonable, helpful service you require that is within their ability to provide.
“Do you do pool openings?” I asked.
A smile. “No. Our clients are people who are in a bit of a tight spot. Not necessarily financial either. A lot of them just physically can’t do the work by themselves. They need help just getting basic things done. So that’s what we do. For instance, I’m helping somebody renovate a bathroom to make it accessible for them because one of them really needs that capability. They have a few health issues related to aging and all the stuff that goes with that.”
“Really. What other things do you do?”
“We help them look after their place so that they can stay in their house longer. Things like cleaning eavestroughs, yard maintenance, snow removal, appliance repairs, painting, plumbing, installing smoke alarms, basic carpentry, and housecleaning. Sometimes it’s just to replace lightbulbs. The net effect is that it helps people stay in their house for a longer time. That’s less taxing on our healthcare system and that’s a good thing not just for the system but for our clients.”
“I assume you guys can all climb ladders.”
He smiled. “Not all of us can.”
“But the eavestrough guys can. Right?”
“Yes. And so can the painters.”
“And you do this out of the goodness of your hearts?” I asked.
“Nope. We charge a maximum of $12 per hour – sometimes less if the need is there.”
I figured that was a pretty good deal since the going rate for the professionals seems to start at $30.
“But,” he said, “we are not trying to steal business from the professionals. Like I said, we just do this to help our clients with things they cannot do for themselves and if we weren’t there to help them, they’d have a real tough time staying in their house. Those things can get ahead of you if you are trying to keep the value of your house up. If we help them along, when they do sell, they can get the best deal.”
When I asked him how long this service had been available, he told me, “Thirty years.”
“So then, how much work do you do?”
“Last year we did 10,000 jobs. So, we had that money to pay our workers for their time but we also had a $35,000 grant from United Way.”
“What do you spend the 35 grand on?”
“Basically, it’s office rent, supplies, a computer and some administrative support. We have two part-time secretaries who basically run the show and make sure all our requests for help are looked after. After all, there are 60 men and women who need to be scheduled. One big thing in my mind is that the board of directors are all volunteers and receive no money for their time. The money is spent on direct operating costs only.”
“But now, we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“We lost our funding from United Way.”
“The $35,000 dollars?”
“Well, I’m sure you heard that the United Way’s annual fund-raising drive fell short this year and they had to do some cutting. So, they decided that it was more important for their money to go to other senior ventures than ours. I’m sure it was a tough decision for them but… they had to cut somewhere and that’s just the way the cookie crumbled.”
“So, what are you doing about it?” I asked.
“We’re working our tails off trying to raise $35,000 dollars.”
“How would you go about doing that?”
“Well, we’ve sent out a lot of letters to try and raise some corporate sponsorship, we are applying for grants and we are trying to come up with some other ideas.”
One other interesting thing Ray told me. “We are also starting to get donations from our customers. The people we’ve helped over the years have heard about our situation and they are trying to help. Also, our devoted administrative support ladies came to us with a plan to reduce their hours and help us save a few bucks there. So, we’re going to keep going until…”
“Until when?” I asked.
“Until we can’t.”
That’s when what’s left of my lightning-fast mind sprang into action. I said, “You know, for a group that’s been around for thirty years, I’d have to say that you people are a very well-kept secret. I don’t mean a secret to the people you serve but more like a secret to the people who might be able to help you fund such a worthy cause.”
I said that because I had never heard of them - and I would be willing to bet that a lot of the people reading this story haven’t heard of them either.
One of the things I like about donating to organizations like that is they do good work for people in need of their help. Even if it’s just to change a light bulb. Donating to an organization like that gives me some control over how my tax dollars are spent since a donation is tax-deductible and thus, the money you donate, doesn’t wind up in the hands of Ottawa or Queen’s Park.
The organization is called: The Lambton Seniors Association.
They need our help and personally, I think they deserve it. I also ask you to remember that someday you may need their help and personally, I would feel guilty if I asked for that help and had not given them some help when they needed it. It’s one of those things where you really would be paying it forward. You would get the help not only because you needed it but also because you had helped them when they needed it. Anything you can do to make sure they are there when you or someone you love might need them would be appreciated and put to good use.
They would appreciate it: and some day, so might you.