Cheshire resident Phil King has volunteered to help others in one way or another for almost all of his 94 years.
Since 2011, however, he has found a ‘second home’ at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare in Wallingford and has become an important part of the organization.
Gaylord is a non-profit rehabilitation center that specializes in helping people recovering from spinal cord and brain injuries. It is located just above the Cheshire town boundary, a location that has made it easier for King to perform his nearly 600 hours of community service there over the past year.
According to Dorothy Orlowski, patient relations and volunteer services manager, King largely helps assist patients in and out of wheelchairs while getting them to physiotherapy appointments and doctor visits on time. . “We have a lot of great volunteers, but we really couldn’t do it without Phil,” she says, calling him a “superstar.”
King also helps with orientations, having new volunteers who “follow” him on his rounds. But more than that, he embodies the positive mindset Gaylord patients and staff need to meet the challenges of rehab work, Gaylord officials insist.
To recognize King’s extraordinary dedication to Gaylord over the years, the Connecticut AARP presented King with the Andrus Award at a November 9 ceremony.
The Andrus Award recognizes a volunteer age 50 or older from each state who exemplifies community service. The honor comes with a $3,000 prize given to an organization chosen by the winner.
Nora Duncan, director of AARP in Connecticut, echoing the praise for King’s service, said the most important aspect of the award, which itself is chosen by a panel of volunteers, is “the way in which the person has contributed to (AARP’s) mission to help improve and help people be as independent as possible, regardless of age.”
Duncan also remarked on the benefits of volunteer work, saying that “age is a stage, not an ability. When you do volunteer work that excites you and brings you joy, you will have a longer and healthier life.
That description couldn’t be more apt for King, who traces his spirit of community service back to his days in scouting, where he was active as a youth in New York, even serving as a troop bugler, before maturing into a role. of an adult leader, driving a repurposed army truck upstate for camping trips. He worked serving hot meals at a soup kitchen in New Haven and as a guide at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. “I had to learn all the nuances of family in order to give tours,” says King.
A resident of Cheshire since 1963, King is also active in the arts. He participated in the Cheshire Community Theater for many years and keeps an eye on developments at the Ball & Socket Arts Centre. But since he started painting at the age of 8, King has always loved the visual arts. It’s something he now shares with Gaylord patients.
“I’ve never been an art teacher, but I’m learning to do it now,” King says. “There are patients who can’t hold a brush or who can’t hold a brush, and I was able to help them do that.”
King names the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman as one of his inspirations. “(Newman) said, ‘What could be better than reaching out and helping someone less fortunate than you? “”
“Patients here will ask for Phil by name,” says Orlowski.
Because a patient can spend up to three weeks in Gaylord’s rehabilitation programs, interpersonal relationships develop. Within the rules governing interactions with patients, King says he is able to give people a hand.
“I could let someone know that I think her hairstyle is great,” he admits, “and they’ll say that me mentioning it to them really made their day because it gave them a personal connection. .”
He attributes some of his success and longevity over the years to the culture of positivity and resilience he finds in Gaylord. “It makes you stand out,” he says, “out of all the people here, you don’t get a lot of moaning and groaning.” That kind of optimism has served the humble king well over the years.
“I interact with people who are going through a tough time,” he said. “If I can help them through this difficult time, maybe I’m doing some good.”