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Ronkin Departs After 18+ Years as Outreach Coordinator

Apr 26, 2019 06:00AM ● By David Dunbar
written by Dave Dunbar for the Bellingham COA newsletter (used with permission).

“Step back… take a deep breath… look around… and then, go for it!”

That’s the advice Sheila Ronkin got recently from her 52-year-old son, Mikhail, upon news that she was phasing out her work as Outreach Coordinator at the Bellingham Senior Center.

Sheila says she has “reinvented” herself multiple times over the years; she has been a teacher (fourth-grade history); college grad who briefly flirted with becoming a lawyer; aval wife during the Vietnam War; marketing expert at her father’s frozen meat company in Watertown. Time now for the next re-invention.

“Everything in life is a learning experience,” says Sheila. “If you don’t learn anything, then the day is wasted.” Learning can come from interacting with other people, reading books, and just being alive

When she started working at the Senior Center more than 18 years ago, the Outreach function was different than it is today. Then, “it was mostly about helping people to downsize and adjust to aging,” she says. Now, it’s more complicated – “dealing with the legal system, fuel assistance, food stamps, end of life preparations, medical expenses on top of downsizing and aging.”

“One of the things I was good at was remembering everything… all the details of the case, but I could never remember names,” Sheila smiles.

Many of her early clients were survivors of the Great Depression. “They were strong and inde-pendent. They grew up in families where they did not talk to strangers,” she recalls.

These days, her clients tend to be Baby Boomers who are “more open to talking to non-family experts.” “Our parents don’t always have the answers,” says Sheila, “so it’s good to blend advice from people you work with and know outside the family.”

Her favorite part of the job? “I loved every part. Being with people in the community. Realizing that everyone is different even though their problems may be similar.”

“Sheila was very helpful and supportive when I arrived at the Senior Center in June,” recalls Josie Dutil, executive director. Members kept asking, “Where’s Sheila?” And offering, “She always helped me… I love Sheila!”

Sheila hopes to be able to help out at the Senior Center in the future. Among other things, she’s hoping to re-establish the “Lunch Bunch” sometime in June so women can get together to talk and laugh and become closer over a nice meal.

Currently, she’s helping with the care of her husband, Alan, who underwent extensive hip surgery and is now on the mend. She also spends time with her two sons – Mikhail who teaches high school physics and Jeremy who is a professional musician and a member of the faculty at Brown University.

Two grandsons, two granddaughters, and one great granddaughter also require time and attention which Sheila gives happily.

As this interview concluded, Ronkin observed that as one door closes, another one always opens.





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