A Shining Light in a Million Stars
Connie Scheicher is one in a million. Really, she is.
Connie and every resident of Birchwood at Old Bridge Senior Residence are among the more than one million seniors living in affordable housing across the United States.* What Connie deserves¾as does every senior across America, for that matter¾is clean, safe, and affordable housing. What Connie found at Birchwood was more.
As a former customer service supervisor and school bus driver, Connie’s used to building relationships quickly. It’s easy to see why she considers everyone in her “neighborhood,” her Birchwood floor, a friend. So, when she asked her friends to put on their walking shoes and join her in the FEET ON THE STREET (FITS) . . . On the Road benefit walk, she didn’t expect to hear “I don’t think so” from some of them.
"When I saw the sign for the walk, I wanted to get a team together on my floor," Connie remembers. She thought it was a perfect activity for her friends to do together. Birchwood residents benefit from being part of the LSMNJ family, and this LSMNJ fundraiser to help end hunger and homelessness offered a fun and easy way for them to pay it forward by helping others.
"I'm a go-getter. I love to get involved. I asked everyone. Some were happy to sponsor me and make a donation, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t that easy to get people to commit to walking."
Maybe Connie was so dedicated because she knows what it's like to be in need. "I was living with someone, and let's just say that it didn't work out." That's when Connie took refuge in a local women's shelter where she lived for a time. Her kids—now both adults with children of their own—helped her find Birchwood. "They liked it, and I did too because it's clean and comfortable and everyone here is around my age."
It was clear, though, that before she arrived, Connie was under stress. "When I came here eight years ago, I was 310 lbs. and needed a walker. Today I'm 135 lbs. That change started with walking around the parking lot. Each day I do about 20 times around. That's about a mile or two," she guesses. Maybe her friends thought they couldn't keep up with her on the FITS walk?
However, on day of the FITS walk, Connie had not only collected lots of donations but was happy to find many friends walking with her. "Maybe the fanfare and party atmosphere brought more people out," Connie grins. Soon, residents who came intending just to cheer started walking, too. "People were using their walkers and wheelchairs, too." Altogether, there were about 50 people circling the parking lot and encouraging each other to do “one more lap.”
It’s easy to understand how at Birchwood, Connie found more than “affordable housing.” She found a place where she can be herself—and where people value each other for who they are. At Birchwood, Connie found not only her home but a sense of community.
*Source: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, Housing America’s Older Adults, Meeting the Needs of an Aging Population http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/jchs_housing_americas_older_adults_2014_key_facts.pdf]