When Roberta Sisk and her husband bought their home 38 years ago, their goal was to have a winter escape from the Montana cold in sunny Arizona. A couple in their 40s, they were in their prime of life. But Roberta’s husband’s heart had other plans for him as shortly after they arrived in Arizona, they learned her husband’s heart was struggling. An anesthesiologist, Roberta’s husband eventually sought care in Tucson with renowned cardiologist Dr. Copeland, experiencing a quadruple bypass, and later, not one, but two heart transplants. The couple settled into a new life in Arizona to enjoy the warm weather and to receive the life-saving care the doctor would need to live.
In the mid 1990s, Sun Lakes was just beginning to be built. Roberta learned from the Sun Lakes United Methodist Church nurse at the time, Virginia Nelson, that a means of helping homebound seniors or widows was needed. The Methodist church along with other faith-based members of what was then the Sun Lakes Interfaith Council, had begun to consider how they would help folks who were unable to get their own meals any longer, and widows who were struggling with basic life skills after their husbands had passed. The spry Roberta remembers the widows’ group she assisted with which was one of the first programs offered by the little volunteer group.
“We became a part of the Chandler Healthy Community Council where we would pick up the widowed women, since many of them did not drive back then, and take them to meetings where we’d enjoy a speaker, and rolls and coffee,” Robert explained.
“It was our mission to help socialize these ladies and help them learn the tasks they did not experience while married, such as writing out checks, and arranging for home maintenance and car repairs.” We also would take everyone out for a lunch after with the hope that they would all foster relationships so they could be there for one another.
Besides the Widows Program, Roberta said the other program established was to deliver meals to homebound seniors in Sun Lakes. The food was produced by Basha’s for $4 per meal, and volunteers delivered the food to folks who could not get out on their own to shop for food or who could not prepare their own meals, a very similar model to today’s Neighbors Who Care dinner program.
She says she remembers when she delivered meals, the clients she brought food to were so happy to see her and really wanted to visit.
“I could tell they needed a little friendly companionship or a nice visit,” Roberta explained.
“Once, a woman I helped called for a grocery ride. When we returned from shopping to move the groceries in her home, every surface in her kitchen was loaded with groceries,” Roberta said, “She didn’t need any groceries, she needed a friendly visit.”
Even though Neighbors Who Care was a fledgling organization, it still garnered partners in the community to help get its mission accomplished. For example, Mr. Robson of Robson Resort Communities offered the new little agency an apartment to use for an office once an employee was hired. The group secured a grant from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to begin building the infrastructure to be able to help more seniors. Despite their biggest barrier, publicity, clients, volunteers, and requests began to grow. In the early 2000s, around 2002, Roberta said she was a part of the capital campaign led by Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D. Funds were solicited back then and Rabbi’s efforts in the Jewish community were combined with contributions from many others to pay off the mortgage where Neighbors Who Care now does business in our office condo, fully owned and paid for by the efforts of this group. She celebrated the help of volunteer Nancy Sheridan, a skilled grant writer and volunteer, who helped build the infrastructure for the growing NWC.
Respite was the next service to be added. At that time, the leadership of the group visited Sun City West to study a similar program called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which was the original name selected for the Sun Lakes service. It was then that the group switched its name to Neighbors Who Care to differentiate it from the other west valley agency.
Today, Roberta’s eyesight isn’t what it was so she no longer volunteers for Neighbors Who Care, but she IS sometimes helped by our volunteers for transportation to the doctor for injections she receives in her eyes. A common phenomenon here at Neighbors Who Care is when folks who helped as volunteers, later in their aging journey become clients. It’s a beautiful cycle.
April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month and Neighbors Who Care has several activities in mind to thank our treasured volunteers. We take this moment to honor one volunteer in particular, Roberta Sisk, who was a pioneer who helped begin the agency that would go on to add 14 different services, thousands of volunteers and clients in the nearly 29 years since its inception as Neighbors Who Care.