Retirees Give Back

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Savannah needs helping hands, and these hardworking retirees are answering the call

Dr. Louis Fair Jr. // Photo by Molly Hayden

Dr. Louis Fair Jr.

Hometown: Derry, Indiana
Career focus: Higher education, United States Navy and international travel
Retired since: 2007, officially

Dr. Louis Fair Jr. actually retired three different times: first as a professor; then from the United States Navy; and finally, from a logistics role at United Airlines. Since 2007, Dr. Fair has volunteered for Meals on Wheels, delivering fresh and frozen meals to senior citizens. He also works with the Savannah Chapter of 100 Black Men of America, mentoring young black men and encouraging a new generation to chase each of their many dreams.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering for Meals on Wheels?: Often I sit and talk with them for a while, ask how they’re doing, or how their family is doing. I’m sometimes the only person they see in a week. They’ll say, “Oh, my daughter hasn’t called,” and I try to fill that void for them as best as I can.

Tell me about your role with 100 Black Men.: I’ve been with 100 Black Men of America, Savannah chapter, for about 12 years, mentoring young black men. We have two or three group mentoring sessions a year, breaking up into groups depending on what members are interested in, as well as individual mentoring. Young black men need mentors; I like to say, “What they see is what they will be.” The world is very unforgiving if you show up in the wrong uniform or with the wrong attitude.

Why volunteer?: I believe all of us have an obligation to find out what the Lord wants us to do here on Earth. My calling was to help people and to fill a void. My meal recipients often “adopt” me. I’ll miss one day and at the next drop off, they ask, “Boy, where have you been?!” even if I told them I might miss a day! We form real bonds in that way.

Any advice for new retirees?: First and foremost, you’ve got to put together a plan, and not just in your head. You have to write it down, start a folder called “Retirement.” Think about what kind of climate you want to live in, how good the health facilities in that community are, what the cost of living is — all of that. Establish criteria for what you want, but when you find it, stop looking. You can save yourself a lot of heartache with that simple formula. The most important aspect is wanting to do it. It has to give you satisfaction that you’re giving back in a very tangible way. I write checks to organizations I also volunteer for. They will respond and send little gifts, but to me, that feels disconnected. Nothing makes a bigger impact than showing up.

Selina Johnson // Photo by Molly Hayden

Selina Johnson

Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina
Career focus: Caregiving
Retired for: 25 years

Selina Johnson remembers her first job as a live-in nurse at a children’s home on the side of a mountain. “I was so green!” she says with a laugh. Now, Johnson is a pro at helping others. Through St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Isle of Hope, Johnson chairs the Unseen Guest Ministry, which feeds people suffering from HIV and AIDS who can no longer care for themselves. To date, she’s helped prepare more than 110,000 meals for people and families in need. Despite the volume of people requiring assistance, Johnson says it’s their individual stories that keep her motivated.

What’s your role with the Unseen Guest Ministry?: I raise funds, write the menus, grocery lists and labels for each dish, and I recruited all of our volunteers for their particular jobs, which might be my favorite part: making people feel needed. Volunteers are so pleased to be able to work with us; it’s really lovely to see. We had one volunteer, totally blind from birth, who sealed the trays after we filled them. She’s sealed 75,000 meals over the time she’s been here.

Why volunteer?: Our meal recipients gain years of life through the nutrition that we provide for them. The world treated them like lepers, but we treat them like guests and prepare good meals we think they’ll enjoy.

Any advice for new retirees?: Think back over your years of employment and what you learned that would contribute to your community or your church, and then get busy.

Camille O’Neill // Photo by Molly Hayden

Camille O’Neill

Hometown: DeSoto, Georgia
Career focus: Principal and educator (Charles Holmes Herty Elementary School, Juliette Low Elementary School, Thunderbolt Elementary School and more)
Retired for: 27 years

In her own words, Camille O’Neill has “too much energy.” The retired educator uses that energy to volunteer for several organizations and businesses in Savannah, including St. Joseph’s/Candler, the former Savannah Symphony Women’s Guild and the Savannah Botanical Gardens. O’Neill credits stamina to her passion for people and parties. “People talk about volunteering like it is so much work, and it is,” she says. “But mostly, I’m having a blast!”

What was your role with St. Joseph’s/Candler Auxiliary?: I worked in their gift shop and offices, and even delivered flowers and visited people with different needs. It was a lovely time, those 10 years. Actually, we had a change in uniforms while I was there. We felt like the “pink ladies” number was outdated, so the people at St. Joseph’s/Candler wear teal and white because of me.

Do you have a favorite volunteer experience?: I had such fun as a past president of the Savannah Symphony Women’s Guild. Imagine 600 women who were able-bodied, passionate about the same purpose and ready to go. It was wonderful to be involved with that. I haven’t seen an organization that large since. We did lots of fundraising, an auction on TV each year, parties in different people’s homes — all to benefit to the guild and the symphony.

Why volunteer?: I’m blessed with an optimistic nature, and I think people need to take a positive look at things, especially after retirement. Being involved and helping people is a very motivational thing for people who stop working and might not think they aren’t needed. You are needed!

Any advice for new retirees?: Don’t isolate yourself. Get moving.

Kathryn Levitt // Photo by Molly Hayden

Kathryn Levitt

Hometown: Chicago
Career focus: Nursing
Retired since: 1981

Retired nurse Kathryn Levitt has volunteered for almost too many Savannah organizations to count. After officially retiring in 1981, Levitt used her own interests as a springboard for her volunteer work, delving into Savannah’s art and healthcare scenes. Her volunteer highlights include starting the SmartWomen Luncheon & Expo, a fundraiser for St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Mary Telfair Women’s Hospital; chairing the Go Red for Women movement for the American Heart Association; and sponsoring the Levitt Photography Gallery at the Jepson Center for the Arts.

What recent volunteer work or achievement are you most proud of?: Every year, I also help put together the Fishy Affair dinner for the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. We serve lionfish, a type of invasive species harming the reef. Thankfully, our chefs know how to make it incredibly delicious. They’re always coming up with a new way to prepare it. It’s a clever way to not only get rid of a harmful species, but also raise money for the Foundation. It’s a lot of fun! I was also pleased to bring my sister-in-law Helen Levitt’s photography to the Jepson Center back in 2014.

How do you choose which organizations to work with?: I go where my interests connect with a need. I’m probably most passionate about healthcare and art, though my husband passed on his interests in archeology and diving as well.

Why volunteer?: My mother was one of my first inspirations. If there was someone in need, she was always there for them. It was very personal, volunteering in a different way. Also, I’ve met some wonderful people while volunteering. This support system has been good for me. I’m alone now after the death of my husband, and having these friends has meant a lot to me. Although the Symphony Guild went under, that group of ladies was a huge support to me and still is. We’ve helped each other through illnesses, the loss of spouses, all of it. Support groups help you live longer!

Nina Thompson Altschiller // Photo courtesy Nina Thompson Altschiller

Nina Thompson Altschiller

Hometown: Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
Career focus: Marketing/advertising
Retired since: Quasi-retired in 2009, when she stepped back from the day-to-day operations of her and her husband’s advertising business and began volunteering with a Quaker organization in Trenton, New Jersey. Retired completely in 2014.

Altschiller moved to Savannah in 2014, but she’s no stranger to being active in her community. What started as facilitating program hires for organizations in Trenton turned into using her voice for Savannah’s underserved communities. She is a passionate volunteer for Planned Parenthood, Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight initiative, the Chatham County Democratic community and the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

Did you always know you wanted to remain active after retirement?: Of course! I sold a lot of merchandise to affluent women in my advertising career. The longer I was in it, the more I knew I’d prefer to serve communities in need.

Why volunteer?: It’s incredibly important for people to stay involved, to mentor, give back, do whatever you can with what you spent your life doing. The idea that people retire then just sit around and watch TV or read seems wrong to me. I have too much energy for that. And if you don’t nurture your energy, that’s a waste.

Any advice for new retirees?: All you have to do is reach out your hand, and someone will grab it and put you to work.