Wes Morrison lost 100 friends — mostly to HIV/AIDS. Now, as he enters the next chapter of life, he is making new friends through Iona.
Wes Morrison was living in Washington, DC at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In the decade from 1990 to 2000, Wes – who is a proud gay man – lost more than 100 friends. Actually, he just stopped counting at 100.
That was a low point in his life. Another was the day in 2009 when he and 27 co-workers were laid off. Wes, who had worked as an assistant television producer at the same news station for 32 years, loved his job. He says he was “one of the lucky ones;” he had a pension and qualified for severance pay while many of his colleagues did not.
In the following months, Wes felt depressed, angry, and useless. He had planned to retire at 70. He was 62. “It felt like there was not only a hole in my life, but also a hole in my heart,” he says. Fortunately, just as he was beginning to feel “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Wes learned of a volunteer opportunity at AARP, which led him to Iona. “I had always thought of volunteering with youth. Why not seniors?” he thought.
Wes jumped headfirst into Iona’s Citizens Advisory Group (CAG), working to bring in speakers on everything from emergency preparedness to elder justice. Along the way, he made many friends and discovered other programs for him at Iona, including the popular Take Charge/Age Well Academy for Baby Boomers. This educational program helps retirees, or those planning to retire, think about and plan the next stage of life. Wes signed up for the introductory Take Charge of Your Aging 101 course in 2013 and never looked back.
“A lot of retirees haven’t planned for the future,” says Wes. “You wake up one day and your circumstances have changed. You may be out of work, or facing a health challenge. There’s a new class of younger older adults, too young for social security, who are out of work and don’t have a plan. This trend is only going to increase as the population of seniors grows.”
“For me, one of the most important takeaways of Take Charge/Age Well is the value of being engaged in activities and in the community. In other words, I learned how to age gracefully.”
In addition to taking several Take Charge/Age Well classes, Wes has also helped to develop a few — he was recruited to help research a new class for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Baby Boomers that was offered last winter. It was one of our most popular classes to date.
Today, Wes considers Iona to be a home away from home. “I feel productive again – something I thought was taken away from me when I lost my job,” says Wes. “Having Iona in my life is a comfort to me. I have two cousins, but we’ve never been close. Plus they aren’t nearby, and I don’t have a car. It’s a comfort to know if I get sick, I can call someone at Iona. It’s a comfort that they know me. Iona is my family. There are a lot of single adults without family who need this.”
In turn, Wes has become an unofficial ambassador for Iona. He takes Iona’s Resource Guide with him wherever he goes, handing out the free publication to people who may need information about housing or legal help or are looking for social activities.
Wes knows it is hard to ask for help. In 2012, thinking he had a pinched nerve he took three buses to Georgetown Hospital only to learn he had suffered a stroke. If there’s one lesson he’s learned from Iona, it’s “Age Well, Live Well,” he says, citing Iona’s tagline – “but be willing to ask for help when needed.”
By Janice Kaplan