Second Wind Dreams® Grants Wishes Big and Small to the Elderly

May 27, 2014

Second Wind Dreams grants wishes big and small to elderly

Posted: 12:36 p.m. Wednesday, May 14, 2014

By Shelia Poole - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

Kenneth Crooks Jr. is getting his second wind.

The civil rights veteran spent years working for the regional office of the National Urban League and leading One Columbus, an organization dedicated to promoting diversity.

Although he’s retired, Crooks always felt that the push for civil and human rights wasn’t over.

At 83 and with failing eyesight, though, he didn’t necessarily think he would be involved.

But Crooks, who lives in a senior high-rise with his wife, Mary G. Walker, learned long ago to never say never.

The soft-spoken octogenarian, who recently moved to Sandy Springs from Columbus, was honored this week by Second Wind Dreams, an international nonprofit that grants “dreams” to the elderly.

As part of his dream, Crooks, who attended Atlanta University, will become an honorary exhibit interpreter for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opens in Atlanta this summer. Crooks’ dream was to continue to educate people about human rights and to inspire community development.

“The number of people for whom the dream has been achieved is growing,” Crooks said, “but there are a lot of people who find themselves on the edge.”

Crooks was born in Boston, but spent many years in Jamaica, where his father, a Quaker, was headmaster of Happy Grove School and a pastor.

Crooks was surprised by the honor, which is shrouded in secrecy. He recently arrived at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum expecting to receive recognition for a senior competition. Instead, there was a book signing by P.K. Beville and Dr. Neil Shulman, an associate professor in the school of medicine at Emory University and author of a book that later led to the film “Doc Hollywood,” and then his surprise.

“I didn’t expect this,” said a stunned Crooks, smiling as he slipped on the vest of an exhibit interpreter and posed for photographs.

Second Wind Dreams was founded by Beville, a geriatric specialist, author and speaker, in 1997 as a way to grant dreams to senior citizens and to challenge the often negative perception of aging and the elderly. She has designed and implemented mental health services programs, which are currently used in 800 nursing homes throughout the United States.

Second Wind Dreams operates in 17 nations.

She said working with the elderly has been an eye-opener.

“It was that much fun,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that no one else saw what I saw. I started coming up with ways to make a positive experience for our elders.”

By granting their dreams, Beville hopes to enrich the lives of seniors and educate their caregivers and society. The average of age of the dreamers is 84.

The Marietta-based organization has granted “thousands” of dreams since its founding.

“As a society, we view only those who are productive as effective members of our society,” she said. “We’ve abdicated our role as primary caregivers of our elders and forgotten our social responsibility.”

A 2012 consumer-oriented study by Oregon State University of people in their late 80s, their family members, and paid caregivers found that society often devalues the elderly, who may become less independent and more frail as they age.

Researcher Michelle Barnhart said in a release that nearly “every stereotype we associate with being elderly is something negative, from being ‘crotchety’ and unwilling to change to being forgetful.”

Dreams run the gamut and surprise is a big element.

“We take for granted being able to get a new bedspread or blanket or cup holder for a wheelchair,” Beville said, but even those items aren’t always readily available for an elderly person on a fixed income or someone who doesn’t have a network of family or friends.

One woman wanted to go for a ride to see Christmas lights. It would be the first time she left her senior living community in eight years.

In Illinois, a woman wanted to dance again but was in a wheelchair. The nonprofit found a studio willing to work with her to make her dream come true.

In Austell, 92-year-old twins wanted an Elvis impersonator and a happy hour in their nursing home.

In most cases, individuals and businesses are willing to pitch in to help. Rarely are requests denied.

“The beautiful part of it is that every day, we discover a new dream,” said Beville, whose nonprofit accepts in-kind and monetary donations, which can be made online. “We let the outside community know what it is, and it honestly takes on a life of its own.”

The main source of funding, though, is revenue from the Virtual Dementia Tour, a simulation tour that Beville developed in 2002 as a way to sensitize people to the plight of dementia.

She’s also helped grant dreams to people in various stages of dementia. One metro Atlanta man kept talking about the days when he was a drummer in a jazz band. The nonprofit found some of his old jazz buddies and arranged for them all to meet up at a local club.

“When he came in, his band mates were already on the stage,” Beville said. “If you could have seen the look on his face.”

He joined them onstage “and never missed a beat. He was playing the drums as if nothing had happened. He just came to life again. We almost couldn’t get him off the drums.”

As for Crooks, he plans to get more active.

“I guess my work here is never done until somebody upstairs says so,” he said.

If you want to learn more about Second Wind Dreams or to contribute, go to www.secondwind.org.

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