Betty Cook’s mother died at age 67.
“I didn’t think I would live much longer than that,” Cook said.
So she never worried too much about financial survival into old age. But survive she did. Cook is 82.
She’s active in the Hillyard Senior Center. She’s active in her church.
But her ears? They don’t work so well anymore.
So when Cook heard about the Twilight Wish Foundation, a national group that grants wishes to low-income seniors, she applied for hearing aids. She got them.
The national foundation came into existence seven years ago. The Pacific Northwest chapter, which granted Cook’s wish, was established in 2009.
The foundation grants wishes to seniors who struggle to meet basic needs, and to seniors in care facilities dependent on Medicare and Medicaid.
“There’s nothing left over for them for anything joyful or extravagant,” explained Cass Forkin, founder and executive director of Twilight Wish, in a recent phone interview from her Bucks County, Pa., office.
“If they want to meet their favorite baseball player, for instance, that would be something they could never do on their own, and we make it happen.”
In her 40s, Forkin was leading a busy life. She was a for-profit health care administrator and mother to a teenager.
But Forkin had always felt destined to do something for the greater good. The feeling nagged at her for years. Then, on her first cruise, as she was getting a head massage, a “lightning bolt” struck her imagination.
She would start an organization that granted wishes to low-income seniors who had been community givers in their prime years.
In 2003, Twilight Wish Foundation was born. It has chapters throughout the United States.
Elinor Foltz of Colbert is regional director of the Pacific Northwest chapter. Like Forkin, she desired to do something for seniors. She always felt a kinship with them.
“I grew up an only child,” she explained. “There was me, and the next people up were in their 40s. I grew up with Lawrence Welk.”
Foltz, 48, took care of her ill mother for 10 years, commuting between her home in Colbert and New Jersey, where her mother lived.
After her mother died, “I thought about putting together a foundation that grants wishes to seniors,” Foltz said.
She Googled the idea and discovered Forkin had already created it.
“I thought, ‘Instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m going to join it,’ ” Foltz said.
“On what would have been my mother’s 90th birthday – April 1, 2009 – I was welcomed aboard the Twilight Wish team when the Pacific Northwest chapter was formed.”
Foltz gave up her marketing-communications business to focus full-time on Twilight Wish.
“They say, ‘do what comes naturally, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ What comes naturally to me is being with seniors.”
Twilight Wish has granted more than 1,400 wishes so far.
The wishes range from the practical – walkers, adult tricycles, computers, refrigerators, artificial Christmas trees – to the celebratory.
A man who lives in a Florida nursing home, for instance, desired a tailgate party at a Philadelphia Eagles game. He got it.
Betty Cook was the first recipient of a wish granted by the Pacific Northwest chapter.
“She hit every criteria,” Foltz said of Cook. “She was a lifelong volunteer. She was emotionally and cognitively able to experience the wish. She is sharp as a tack.”
As a younger woman, Cook became the 4-H mom to dozens of children in her Bigelow Gulch neighborhood.
“We had a horse arena with horse barns,” said her daughter, Kristie Carney. “She prepared kids for the rodeo. She always gave her time to the kids. We didn’t have time to get in trouble.”
Cook did all the 4-H work gratis, and in her younger years held low-paying jobs. So in older age, she relies solely on her deceased husband’s Social Security.
Cook’s desire for hearing aids is such a common wish that the foundation partners with Zounds, a national hearing aid company.
After her wish was granted, Cook and her daughter traveled to Zounds Hearing Center on the state’s West side.
In her thank-you note to the foundation, Cook wrote: “I can hear the birds singing in the morning. I’ve turned down the TV.
“My daughter is happy now. She doesn’t have to yell at me. I can hear my friends at the senior center and find they are talking nice about me. I never did hear what they were saying before.”
Other wishes granted in the Inland Northwest?
Gus, a homeless vet whose dentures were stolen along with his backpack, received a new set.
Sally received an Australia-themed gift basket.
Antonia was granted a reunion for 26 family members.
These Inland Northwest recipients, as all 1,400-plus national recipients, dwell at a basic sustenance level.
However, the majority of senior citizens are doing better financially now than at any time in history.
On average, their net worth has increased almost 80 percent over the past 20 years, according to a report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.
And the U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that median income rose 7 percent during the recession for households headed by people 65 and older.
People of all ages, including many seniors, have donated to Twilight Wish, especially with in-kind donations. But cash donations, generous before the recession, have taken a hit.
The chapters are creative in meeting wishes, given budget restraints. For instance, Sally desired a trip to Australia, a request beyond the Pacific Northwest chapter’s budget. The basket served as an appreciated substitute.
“She was thrilled,” Foltz said.
The recession realities of running a charity, dependent on the kindness of others, is daunting. But neither Foltz nor Forkin have wavered in the rightness of pursuing their dream.
And Forkin has a wish for all readers today.
“Don’t forget the people in your own family who are aging,” she said.
“Don’t forget to say to them: ‘Hey Mom, hey Dad, hey Grandmom, hey Grandpop, if you could have anything at all, what would it be?’ Then, if possible, make it happen. If it’s not possible, reach out to us.”
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