Lend a hand for a healthy head and heart

Volunteering keeps seniors active and engaged

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 24, 2017

 This photo is a favorite of Smith, who was the inspiration behind the historical photo display at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

This photo is a favorite of Smith, who was the inspiration behind the historical photo display at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

Photo provided by Tera Moon, of the Bloomfield Township Public Library


METRO DETROIT — In December, Bloomfield Township resident Virginia Lee Smith will be 100 years old.

Closing in on such an impressive milestone means Smith moves a little slower than she used to, though she’s still moving just fine with a little help from a walker. And she’s not working full time at the library that employed her for decades and that she even helped to found, but she’s still there several times a week to help out as a volunteer.

Smith said she just can’t seem to let go of the things she’s passionate about.

“I’ve always loved books, maybe because I was an only child,” said Smith while working at the monthly used book sale at the Bloomfield Township Public Library earlier this month. “I still probably read about one book a week. I worked for the library for 22 years, then I retired and they asked me to run for the library board, so I did and I was elected. Then after that I served on the Friends of the Library board.”

Dr. Alex Borja, owner of Borja Physical Therapy in Utica, said he isn’t surprised to hear that someone like Smith is still active at 99 years old. Mental and physical stimulation are beneficial to the body at any age, he explained. 

“Simply put, you cannot afford not to be active. It’s something that each individual would need to ask themselves. How beneficial would it be to you to remain independent? How beneficial would being active with and enjoying your grandchildren be?” Borja said. “Aside from the value of enjoying life itself, think of the cost of health insurance deductibles, copays, coinsurance costs. Thousands and thousands of retirement funds may be saved from medical bills when (someone) leads an active lifestyle.”

Borja said his senior patients who aren’t very active come in for physical therapy treatment at least 50 percent more than those who are regularly moving and social. And that social element is important, according to the doctor, who said a healthy body isn’t worth much without an engaged mind.

“There’s a misconception that those who do not appear social are being antisocial. But that’s not always the case, as some people simply enjoy being around others without being the social butterfly,” he explained. “But for those who aren’t around others very often, it would be highly beneficial for them to get out there and be more social. Taking part in community events (like) volunteering or visiting the local senior center are a great start.”

Over the years, Smith’s service to the BTPL has not only served her body and spirit, but she’s made a hefty contribution to the library and her community. Recently, when library administrators were looking for ideas on how to decorate the walls of the facility’s massive community room, Smith suggested a historical photo installation depicting the evolution of the library. 

“The library director was very interested in the project, and they dug all these photos up and had them enlarged. I think they’re a very good representation of the history of the library,” Smith said.

The photos, pulled from the BTPL’s own collection, date back to 1962, when Smith and other residents formed the Citizens’ Library Committee of Bloomfield Township and secured millage funding for the library, which in the beginning was housed at leased space at the corner of Long Lake and Telegraph. 

The photos were restored and professionally framed with help from other volunteers and funding from the Friends of the Library. Smith was honored for her idea, and her decades of service, at the unveiling of the installation.

“Volunteering provides a sense of contribution and a lasting mark on society,” Borja said, adding that some of the benefits that come from volunteering range from general health to reduced pain, and increased independence and cognition. 

“Volunteering is an irreplaceable experience that should be given a chance by anyone and everyone.”