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Retired teacher finds time to reach out to others

Whether it’s an elderly woman in a local nursing home who needs to get to a store or a four-legged fur ball needing a clean cage, Joanne Wilkinson volunteers her time to help them, and in the process, helps her own spirit.

Wilkinson, 65, grew up in Buffalo, New York where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the State University College at Buffalo. She started her career in teaching close to home, but eventually started teaching children around the world at international schools in Venezuela, Indonesia and Scotland. After receiving her degree to teach English as a second language at International House in London, England, she went to teach ESL at the British Council in Doha, Qatar and at the University of Qatar. For 13 years, she taught ESL in Brunei, Borneo.

While in Sumatra, Indonesia, she met her husband, Mark.

“Our first date was a helicopter ride,” she said.

Very involved in community

The couple never had children; however, they were parents to many feline babies during their 36 years of marriage and continue to help cats and kittens in Oxford that are hoping for a forever home. She volunteers with the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society taking care of the cats that are awaiting adoption at PetSmart.

Since making Oxford her home, she has deeply involved herself into the community through her volunteering. She has volunteered with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program for 10 years.

“I look after a few elderly people in the community, taking them to doctors appointments, shopping or just visiting with them,” Wilkinson said.

She has served as secretary of her neighborhood’s home owner’s association, helped at the Oxford & Lafayette County Public Library, volunteered her time at Theatre Oxford, doing everything from being a bartender to selling tickets; writing the Newcomer’s Club newsletter; and serving as an usher at the Gertrude Ford Arts Center. She has served on the Cedar Oaks Guild and the Baptist Hospital’s Patient Family Advisory Council.

“I volunteer because I want to be involved with the community,” she said. “Volunteering is a great way to meet wonderful people, and to feel that you are doing some good. Volunteering enriches your life, and makes you feel that you are useful.”

Wilkinson understands that many people who are still working may not feel they have the time to volunteer, and shouldn’t feel obligated to do so unless they find themselves with some spare time.

“I did not really get involved in volunteering until I started working part-time, and now I am able to volunteer even more since I retired,” she said.

Finding satisfaction

With so many different places and volunteer jobs, Wilkinson said it’s hard to say where she enjoys volunteering the most since each job gives her some satisfaction.

“Being on the patient family advisory council at Baptist Hospital has enabled me to give input regarding the new chemo unit, furniture for the new rooms, and to offer suggestions about how to make the hospital a better place for patients,” Wilkinson said. “Being an usher at the Ford Center gives me the opportunity to meet a wide range of people and to try to ensure that the theatergoers have a good experience.

“Volunteering to care for the cats at PetSmart has allowed me to adopt four wonderful cats. I enjoyed the times I was a bartender for Theatre Oxford as it was so unlike anything I had ever done in my life. I really like being a bartender, and I would never have had that opportunity if I had not volunteered.”