Suzanne Beals spent 70 of the last 87 years of her life with her husband by her side. When he passed away last Christmas, her heartbreak could have easily impacted her feeling of purpose in life.
With the help of family, she found the strength and courage to start a new chapter. She left her home of more than 50 years and moved into Casey's Pond, a senior living community in Steamboat Springs. She immediately pursued a project there that brought meaning and joy to her life.
"I had asked if there was a library at Casey's Pond. Building a Little Free Library is something I always wanted to do when we lived in Lakewood, but I felt like we were too far off the beaten track," Beals said.
The staff at Casey’s Pond embraced the idea, though, said Beals’ daughter Donna Starbuck.
“It’s has given her something to think about, to format ideas on what kind of books she wants to put in the library, what varying age groups she wants to provide for, what are the size of the shelves, how will she organize it?” Starbuck said. “Casey’s Pond valued her idea, acted on her idea, giving her something to engage upon, something to stimulate her mind, to stir excitement and they have given mom a sense of importance, a sense of sharing and serving others.”
Lifestyle Director Cathy Reese said other residents have rallied around the project, too. Some have helped by creating artwork in the Creative Arts Center to decorate the library box, which is conveniently located on a walking path just outside the building and next to a small outdoor seating area. Sue works on getting books gathered. A registered Little Free Library means it will operate on the honor system of “take a book, return a book.”
Beals loves the idea because she likes to share her favorite books with others, and she’s always interested in seeing what other people are reading. And, because she has so many family members visiting her, including grandchildren, she thinks the books will also be a fun distraction for children visiting Casey’s Pond. She jokes that kids can get bored hanging out with seniors for too long.
Why purpose matters
Casey’s Pond is an Eden Alternative Community, meaning it promotes a culture that fosters collaboration between caregivers and care receivers. The philosophy states that care partner teams “strive to enhance well-being by eliminating the three plagues of loneliness, helplessness and boredom.”
“As an Eden Alternative Community, we are committed to making Casey’s Pond a home, not a ‘facility,’” Reese said. “We believe that there is great joy in community and that everyone who is a part of Casey’s Pond has an opportunity to thrive and not just survive.”
Research shows that having a sense of purpose in life is essential, especially for seniors. One National Institutes of Health-funded study of seniors showed that people who expressed having goals or purpose lived longer and better than those who didn’t. Other research shows that a sense of purpose helps prevent heart attack and stroke, helps people sleep better and can even stave off dementia, according to a report in New Scientist, a science and technology magazine.
“There is a power that is contagious when someone pursues a life worth living,” Reese said. “It makes others want to join along.”
Starbuck has enjoyed seeing her mother have a reason to get up each day. After her father died, she worried her mother would struggle to adapt to life without him because they were a unit for 70 years.
“They were each other’s purpose,” Starbuck said.
But now, Casey’s Pond has helped her mother find purpose again. Starbuck says it’s a testament to a culture that values its residents.
“The elderly still matter and have value in this crazy world,” Starbuck said.
This story originally appeared on The Steamboat Pilot & Today and is used by permission.