P.K. Beville is a dream come true for elders living in nursing homes and assisted living centers. During the last nine years, the Alpharetta, Ga., woman has helped thousands of senior citizens realize their dreams, from riding a roller coaster to being reunited with a long-lost family member.
“A dream can be as simple as a new dress,” says Beville, 51, founder and CEO of Second Wind Dreams, a non-profit organization whose mission is to let seniors know how special they are. “People in elder care facilities usually can’t run out to a Macy’s sale like the rest of us.”
A geriatrics specialist for more than 20 years, Beville used to perform psychological evaluations of residents of long-term care facilities. During those evaluations, residents often spoke longingly about their desire to dance, visit an old homeplace or cook again, and Beville wondered why someone didn’t make those things happen. In 1997 she stopped wondering and started Second Wind Dreams in the basement of her Alpharetta (pop. 35,139) home.
Since then, Beville and more than 450 volunteers and employees of nursing homes and assisted living centers have taken elders for blimp rides and to Disney World and have taught several seniors to swim. They arranged for one woman to ride a camel, another to direct an orchestra, and a man to play in the PGA Senior Golf Tournament.
In March, Pollyanna Birchfield’s dream of baking a cake again was fulfilled. Birchfield, 87, a resident of the A.G. Rhodes Home-Cobb in Marietta, Ga. (pop. 58,748), used to bake every night, but age, failing eyesight and life in a nursing home made her dream seem like an impossibility. When employees of the nursing home found out about Birchfield’s dream, they helped her make a cake to serve to her fellow residents.
“She hadn’t baked a cake for 37 years,” says Beville, who snapped digital photos of the event for Second Wind’s newsletter.
“Mom loves sweets,” says Pollyanna’s daughter, Diane Hicks, who watched from the sidelines. “We had dessert every single night growing up.”
Another Rhodes resident, 76-year-old Booker Linkhorn, also realized a dream through Second Wind’s generosity. A former small-town baseball player, Linkhorn was in major league heaven two years ago when three nursing home employees took him to see an Atlanta Braves’ game.
“I hollered, ‘Hey, Sheffield, hit one for me,’” Linkhorn recalls, his eyes reflecting the excitement of hobnobbing with Gary Sheffield, the New York Yankees’ outfielder who played for the Braves at that time. “He did and yelled back, ‘That one’s for you, Booker.’”
Although the focus of Second Wind is dreams, its mission includes changing public perceptions of elders and the aging process. “As people watch each dream unfold, they experience the perspective of older adults and gain a greater appreciation for their stage of life,” Beville says. “Long after the dream has been fulfilled, its effects linger, giving all involved a ‘second wind.’”
Second Wind Dreams, which is funded primarily through donations, has grown so fast that Beville left behind her six-figure geriatrics consulting job in the late 1990s. With her banker husband’s blessing, she now volunteers 40 or more hours a week to Second Wind, which fulfills an average of three dreams a day in 41 states and two foreign countries.
Beville’s own dream is for Second Wind to hire a full-time chief operating officer so she can free herself from fund-raising duties and return to making dreams come true.
“I love my work so much,” says Beville, who believes her special empathy for elders stems from the helplessness she felt when temporarily paralyzed by polio as a child. “I love to hold elders, to brush their hair. I’m so enamored of the aging process and the miracle of that and how we see aging and how families handle it.”
For more information on Second Wind Dreams, call (678) 624-0500 or log on to www.secondwind.org.