April was a banner month for the folks at Y OPAS (YMCA’s Outreach Programs for Ahwatukee Seniors), one in which our entire community can take pride.

Y OPAS simultaneously named its Volunteer of the Year, Jane Forde, and enjoyed its own recognition by the city of Phoenix with a Community Partnership Award.

“It was such a wonderful moment for us to receive the award, because it recognizes the valuable work that our volunteers do for Ahwatukee seniors,” said Judy Lewisohn, Y OPAS’ program manager.

Haven’t been introduced to Y OPAS? Here’s the scoop.

More than a decade ago, Linda Hoppe, along with several other compassionate volunteers, conceived and launched OPAS (Outreach Programs for Ahwatukee Seniors) at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Back in those days, seniors found care and companionship during daytime hours, offering respite to their caregivers.

Over time, the grassroots program evolved with the leadership of a few passionate volunteers. Today, the program is nested in the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA, where a tiny staff with big muscle recruits, mobilizes and empowers volunteers to provide transportation and in-home companionship to Ahwatukee’s seniors. You know — those wise, selfless elderly folk who themselves served their communities passionately — products of the “Greatest Generation.” We owe them.

To honor its treasured founder, who died in 2007, each year Y OPAS awards the Linda Hoppe Above & Beyond Award to the volunteer who consistently goes above and beyond to serve. According to Linda Jochim, Y OPAS’ community outreach specialist, Jane Forde, a retired nurse and herself a cancer survivor, was an obvious choice.

Forde, who signed on as a volunteer in 2004, “helped transition us from aligning our strategic planning to attuning our mission to sustaining our organization. She’s helped in every single sphere of our operation — in the office, behind the scenes securing grants, and working directly with our seniors. She’s just an amazing advocate — her quiet leadership has been such a blessing,” Jochim said.

What I wanted to know was that after serving others her entire life, first as a nurse and later caring for a dying husband, why not just take a little time to enjoy life? Retire? Kick back a bit?

“When you serve others, you serve yourself,” said Forde, 73. “I joke around that I’m older than some of the folks I serve, so I keep helping Y OPAS because I know they’ll be there for me too.”

What’s Forde’s sweet spot?

“Driving our clients to doctor’s appointments. I love to meet new people, and since I’m a nurse, I can often be of extra help in communicating with doctors,” she said.

Forde also keeps at it because the need is so great “and the best part of volunteering for Y OPAS is you can take on assignments as infrequently or frequently as you like. It’s flexible — great for retirees who want to give back, for teachers who have summertime flexibility, and especially for men. Those ladies really enjoy their company — and it makes the guys feel good, too.”

In the same week Y OPAS celebrated Forde and their cadre of 145 volunteers, the organization received an exciting award of its own. Each year the Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department celebrates the program by recognizing CDBG (Community Development Block Grants)-funded projects that have had a lasting impact on the local community. Y OPAS received the Community Partnership Award for partnering with local community volunteers to provide escorted transportation to seniors.

I’ve been a Y OPAS volunteer for more than a year now. I know it sounds a little cliché, but still — it’s true. I get so much more than I give when I drive my 91-year-old friend, Dorothy, and her sweet son who has always lived by her side, Kenny, to Fry’s each week. I have to go there anyway — why not take someone who could use a lift?

According to Lewisohn, “more than 75 percent of our assignments are for transportation to medical, dental, physical therapy appointments and for help with shopping.”

During the summer months, many volunteers are traveling, and so Y OPAS could use your help now more than ever.

They’ve been there for our community’s most precious, tenured members. Can you sign on to be there for Y OPAS? I promise the return on investment’s unbeatable.

To explore volunteerism, or learn more about Y OPAS, call (602) 212-6088.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Meehl is a mother of three, a freelance writer and volunteer. Reach her at dianemeehl@cox.net.

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