Big Hearts for Seniors celebrated its 17th anniversary and held its annual fundraiser in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre Tuesday night. This year’s fundraiser, “Big Hearted Stories: Journeys,” included a live performance featuring five storytellers, who each shared personal stories surrounding the theme of the night: “journey.”
Big Hearts for Seniors is a collection of five programs administered through Michigan Medicine — Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, Housing Bureau for Seniors, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Silver Club Memory Programs and Turner Senior Wellness Program — to support and serve seniors in the community. Since 2006, various events by Big Hearts for Seniors have raised over a total of $500,000.
The emcee and guest speaker of the night was Public Health professor Victor Strecher. In his performance titled “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything,” Strecher shared a story about his high school dance and what he has learned since then.
“I learned that all the people I wanted to be, I now don’t want to be,” Strecher said. “And a lot of the people who were kind of geeks and nerds and misfits ended up being pretty interesting people that I really enjoy, and still do.”
Strecher also stressed the importance of respect between partners and repeated the message he gave to students at Frankfort High School’s 2021 commencement.
“As you start going through life and you find somebody, make sure that that person sees this light in your eyes, sees this special thing about you and helps build that and doesn’t try to denigrate it,” Stretcher said. “Because if they’re talking down to you or denigrating you or making you feel bad, run away.“
Published playwright Marc Holland spoke on a series of events in his life that he either accepted or refused to accept in his performance “Arriving at Acceptance.” Through an anecdote about the time he drove his truck into his garage door, Holland explored what acceptance is.
“What I learned was anger will not talk about that accident and would dare you to bring it up,” Holland said. “Acceptance call their homeowner’s insurance and was told ‘Of course, we’ll cover that. That’s why you have homeowner’s insurance.’ Anger will look at paint transfers on my opened garage door every morning and just curse the day, but acceptance took a pile of rags and toothpaste and rubbed all that paint away.”
Bill Krieger, the veterans affairs program manager for Consumers Energy, also spoke at the fundraiser. As a retired army captain, Krieger monitors the well-being of the veterans his company hires as they return to the civilian world. In his performance “Destination Unknown,” Krieger talked about the mental hardships he has faced following his return from Iraq and the experiences that led him to his current job. Krieger said he believes mental health is a continuous journey.
“I used to think that getting well was this trip from A to B, and it’s really not,” Krieger said. “There is no real destination when it comes to our mental health and our personal well-being.”
The fundraiser also featured Mark A. Harris, Merck Pharmaceuticals’ first prostate cancer consultant and a fitness instructor who has contributed to cancer-related work.
Harris’ performance titled “The Bright Side” centered around his story as both a prostate cancer patient and the father of a young man with cancer who had passed away. Harris said that looking at the bright side and replying with “fantastic” when people ask how he is doing has helped him overcome the challenges in life.
“Sometimes we have to calmly and honestly look at yourself, which I did,” Harris said. “‘Mark, when people ask you how you doing, you always say ‘fantastic.’’”
The final speaker was Breeda Kelly Miller, a storyteller, author, playwright and actor.
Miller shared her years-long journey as a caregiver of her mother with dementia, which is often described as “the long goodbye.” In her performance “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home”, Miller spoke on how her mother taught her to love life through a series of interactions between her, her mother and other people in their lives.
“My mother Mary Kelly was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary outlook on life,” Miller said. “She was always open to new experiences. I always say she’d go to the opening of a donut shop. She just loved life, and she taught me that, even when she was at the end of hers.”
Through ticket sales, a silent auction of almost 200 items and donations, Big Hearted Stories: Journeys has raised a record-breaking total of $122,000 so far, which is $30,000 more than the record set in 2021.
Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org