Red is Gloria Walker’s favorite color. It’s a color often associated with fervor, vigor, passion and love. And Walker has all of these things.
At 84 (she’ll be 85 in only a few months), she’s an active member of the community. Not only does Walker volunteer in local elementary schools and senior centers, she serves as the secretary for the Ward 8 Democratic Ward Committee and is the president of her Housing Association.
Her passion to help others is what got the attention of the Home Instead Senior Care Network, who named her the Rhode Island winner of the Salute to Senior Service award. Home Instead is an international provider of non-medical in-home care and services to seniors. This year they launched an awards program to honor seniors who demonstrate commitment and dedication to their communities.
Walker, along with the other 49 state winners, was awarded a certificate and will appear on the Salute to Senior Service Wall of Fame on SalutetoSeniorService.com. She was also entered into the nationwide competition, but the national award went to a New Jersey man.
Walker said she is grateful for the recognition, and never expected to win the national award. For her, being honored with the statewide award is plenty.
Walker credits her father with instilling the spirit of volunteerism in her. At age 4, he took her to a veterans’ cemetery to place flags on all of the graves.
“My father was such a great volunteer,” she said, remembering that he often provided services to military veterans. “My father loved his country.”
Because of her father, Walker never stopped giving back.
“He said I have a gift to give,” she said. “But a good feeling is the only thing I’d get back.”
Walker said the good feeling is payment enough. The people she’s met through her volunteer work have been an added bonus. While volunteering, she met baseball Hall of Fame member Ted Williams and had a “long relationship” with him. She said she’s become good friends with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and is “crazy about our mayor,” Scott Avedisian.
Upon hearing about her award, Avedisian declared May 2 “Gloria Walker Day” in the city of Warwick.
“Gloria Walker is not only a wonderful volunteer and a committed member of this community,” said Avedisian, “she is also one of the happiest, most enthusiastic people I have ever met.”
At 84, “You have to look at the cup half-full,” she said.
It’s volunteerism, she said, that got her through the deaths of two sons, a grandson and a sister.
Walker said you can either make the best of your life, or “be miserable to be around.”
Working with children has brought her joy and Walker has been a member of the Foster Grandparents Program for 10 years, acting as what she describes as a “safety net” for children with low-self esteem.
“I make them believe they can do anything they set their minds to,” she said. In return, she receives “unconditional love.”
Recently, Walker was out sick from her duties at the schools. Upon her return, one boy rushed up to her and gave her a present, and then immediately asked to talk. The boy opened up to Walker about a death in his family, a topic he refused to discuss with anyone else.
“I realized after 10 years, that this is the reason I was here,” she said.
Walker said the students are among the many blessings she counts in her life.
In addition to her work at the school, Walker is an active volunteer at nursing homes, where she participates in various activities.
“Most seniors don’t go to nursing homes because it’s a reminder of where they’re going to end up,” said Walker. “But when I know I’ll bring a big smile to someone’s face and get them to light up … it gives you a good feeling about yourself.”
Walker encourages people to get involved with volunteerism by finding an avenue they enjoy. For those who may want to work with children, she offers this advice:
“You need an awful lot of love,” she said. “Children today aren’t like they were years ago. It isn’t easy to be a kid today.”
Walker loves what she does, and the kids love her for it. Her home is adorned with gifts and crafts from the students she mentors: a large, red, paper flower; a greeting card she helped students make for the military; a portrait of “Grandma Gloria” made of scrap paper.
Walker hopes to continue on her path of volunteerism, and said she is grateful for her good health and many blessings.
“I’m determined to do things we think aren’t possible,” she said.