Thanking the village that built the Village

“Rona, you’re nothing but a public leaning post!”

That was my mother after the gazillionth stranger began telling me his story while waiting at a crosswalk. Or maybe it was in a store, or on a subway, or in a movie line.

Since I was nine years old, everywhere I went, people would tell me their stories. Public leaning post, human wailing wall, sounding board – that’s me! No wonder I went into my line of work.

While I was regularly appearing on network television, people would tell me I was asking questions of my guests they themselves would have liked to ask. That was music to my ears because, from the beginning to the end of my Hollywood career, goal number one was to be a good listener.

And this past Christmas Eve I was privileged to be a sounding board once again.

We wanted Golden Inn & Village (GIV) residents to have a wonderful Christmas Eve – in their new home, one they never dreamed they would be living in. So our volunteers put together a festive dinner and party with music, song and laughter.

Throughout the festivities, appreciative GIV residents and families overwhelmed us with their heartfelt thanks. But it wasn’t just me, or our wonderful volunteers, they were thanking.

They were thanking YOU – the good (and I do mean good) people of the greater Santa Ynez Valley – the village that helped build the Village.

One little nine-year-old boy said, “This is the first time in my entire life I’ve had my own bed in my own bedroom. You have changed my life.”

A resident who had been living in her car for two years had just somewhat skeptically moved in that day. But by night, she celebrated in song and dance.

Another resident said to all of us in the Valley, “this is a great job you’ve done.” Fighting through tears, his wife added, “I would have never imagined we would wind up in a place like this.”

And that’s how the whole evening went.

A few days later, we – and you good people – received several thank you notes from the residents of GIV.

A handmade card, with a sketch of a single rose, red:

“A single red rose signifies the highest and most elegant status of love and respect. We, the residents of GIV offer all of you undying gratitude and respect for the amazing home you have given us in love. We cannot give you an Oscar but we can present this single red rose with our deepest love and respect. We love you…!”

Another card read:

“We will be forever grateful. You have given many of us happiness and a sense of hope we have not felt in many years. Thank you for restoring our hearts. All our love.”

At the party, and when we read their cards, there wasn’t a resident, staff member, volunteer – or human wailing wall – who didn’t have tears in our eyes.

Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.

— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at info@ronabarrettfoundation.org. The opinions expressed are her own.