Seasoned service: Volunteer gains insight working with seniors

Gail Black thrived on the stressful life of a development director – the kind of life that comes with multiple deadlines, checking a Blackberry through dinner, working into the wee hours and assorted forms of juggling.

After a stroke five years ago impacted her frontal lobe, which houses motor function, language and memory, those considerable energies and skills went into her recovery.Gail Photo

A few years ago, Gail saw an ad for stroke recovery support at Tucson Medical Center and was intrigued. Even though she had already come through the darkest days, she continued seeking more tools to navigate an even stronger recovery.

But when she came to learn more, she got more than she initially expected: Signing up to serve as a TMC for Seniors volunteer, even though it typically means a trip from the heart of Oro Valley to Tucson’s central-east side.

“One of the many things I’ve learned is that recovery from any major health event is affected by a positive outlook and a commitment to living strong, but also the existence of a good network, including your doctor, your family and friends, and outlets to stay engaged in your community and to keep the mind active,” said Gail, an elegant 64-year-old.

TMC’s volunteers have many ways to support the community’s healing, but Gail has developed two primary areas of focus. She serves as part of a peer support program for older patients released from the hospital, providing a friendly ear and comfort for those who would benefit from additional support. Her first match was with a 96-year-old woman who was sharp as a tack, with a gracious personality. The two bonded over their shared experience in Portland, where Gail is from. “You think you’re going to help someone else, but what you realize as you walk away is that you’re leaving as the beneficiary of the experience,” said Gail, who has recently been working with her Cairn terrier, Mickey, in the area of pet therapy as well.

With her considerable people skills, she’s also perfect for the art of the meet-and-greet at various TMC workshops and classes, welcoming registrants and assisting the presenters.  She appreciates the exposure to varied topics, along with the opportunities for additional social connections.

Among the encouraging things she took away from ongoing lectures about brain health is a concept called ‘neuroplasticity,’ which postulates that the brain isn’t fixed in decline, but has the ability to regenerate and rewire itself, even after damage. “Even as I was hearing about the brain being able to generate new pathways, I was living it,” she said.

Although her life is different since taking early retirement, in some important ways she’s in a healthier place. Having the knowledge about good health – and applying it – are wildly different things. She’s faithful to a low fat diet, to exercise and to getting sufficient sleep. “I was very deliberate and intentional in my recovery and I remain very mindful of finding balance in life and about living well for myself, my family and my community.”

She’s also enjoying where she is, in her mid-60s. “There’s something to be said about appreciating and honoring the stage we’re in. I don’t have to try to be 40 or 50 again, and with that realization comes a certain wisdom and a certain settling. When you come face to face with mortality, it deepens your faith. And it also makes you grateful for the ability to seize new opportunities when they offer themselves.”

For more information about TMC’s Senior Services programs, from volunteering opportunities to ongoing health and wellness resources and information, please visit or call (520) 324-1960.

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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