“You’ve Got To Care”
Two weeks after a simple milestone, Ruth passed away.
Rochel tells the story: Ruth put a tentative hand on the puppy in front of her. An octogenarian, she had never touched an animal before so this was a milestone for her. “Take a picture, my daughter will never believe this.”
Ruth was part of a GIFT program where seniors help socialize rescue animals before they get adopted. When she passed away, it hit Rochel Tombosky, GIFT’s founder: We tend to think older people have done it all, as if there’s nothing left for them to do. But every second we’re here, we can accomplish something important and new.
Rochel Tombosky is a grounded, pragmatic woman. She’s busy. As a mother of eight lively and beautiful children, she’s learned to keep things simple and action-oriented.
In 2015, Rochel started a non-profit organization to serve seniors, with such a seemingly simple and obvious twist that it begs to be replicated everywhere.
It’s called GIFT: Giving It Forward Together. She is passionate about its purpose. “We focus on what older seniors CAN do as opposed to what they can’t do. There are many organizations focused on what seniors cannot do, that provide rides, meals, and so forth. But they lack in helping them feel productive and needed, giving them a chance to give back.
She feels like her life experiences were leading to just this. “G-d has always put me in situations where I’ve been with seniors in some capacity, and I always loved them. My husband and I owned a caregiving agency. That’s when I got to wholly understand what seniors need. Unfortunately, we eventually had to close our agency. I was devastated, as I’d really thought this was our mission in life. While I was running this for-profit agency I was always doing extra programs and wanting to expand into nonprofit work. So when the business closed, I realized, let me take all that I’ve learned and do something for our seniors.”
Rochel’s dedication to seniors was magnified and strengthened by Judaism’s emphasis on honoring the elderly. But her late father-in-law’s gripping last words really took things to a higher level. “You’ve got to care,” were the last words he said to her husband.
“When G-d puts a situation in front of you where you know you have the abilities to make a difference, you’ve got to step up. I knew that there was something missing with our seniors. We were not tapping into their humanity. So many seniors have told me, ‘I’m just existing but I’m not living.’ No one should feel like they don’t have a reason to live.”
Rochel started creating a variety of initiatives, which take place in senior living facilities, homes; wherever the need is. Among them are: Wrap It, where seniors wrap presents for children. Passover Kits, which the seniors pack to distribute and to make their own seder. Thanksgiving To Go Kit and Caring For Furry Friends, where rescue animals that need to be adopted are cuddled and cared for by people like Ruth, preparing them for human contact and homes.
Rochel is building the program with baby steps, trying to make it simple and replicable.
“These things might seem minimal, but for someone who’s isolated or hasn’t been able to do something for the community for a long time, it’s vitally important. It means a lot to be needed, give back and get reintegrated back into the community. These were once the strong leaders. Age and illness shouldn’t make them invisible or totally dependent while they can still give.”
Visit www.giftpgh.org to read more about what Rochel does.
Meet the other remarkable Lights here.