I like to think that God meets us wherever we are.
For many, discovering their life’s purpose is a challenging, and often complicated, process. For Linda Whiteside, Eskaton employee, artist, and humanitarian, it is an ever-evolving journey that has enabled her to wear many different hats and fill many different roles. And she’s just getting started.
A woman of faith, intelligence and dedication, Linda came to Eskaton in 2010 as a volunteer through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). After spending more than a decade as a real estate agent and obtaining her degree in commercial art, she and her husband relocated from Southern California to unfamiliar Sacramento. Not one to rest on her laurels, Linda began actively pursuing an avenue for her knowledge and skill set, wanting to find a position that both challenged her and capitalized on her education and experience.
After answering an ad posted by SCSEP (a state program that provides work-based training opportunities to seniors), she was given her choice of host sites and quickly decided on Eskaton. Placed with the Telephone Reassurance (TR) program, it soon proved an excellent fit. “What’s really very rewarding and fulfilling is I felt that it correlated with the desire I’d always had to be a psychologist. I knew when I talked to somebody, I’d made a difference. I was able to give them what they needed in that moment, and that was very rewarding to me.”
In the decade that followed, Linda worked tirelessly to improve the range and effectiveness of the TR program in her role as Program Manager. Inherited from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 1996, Eskaton’s Telephone Reassurance program serves over 600 participants annually, providing friendly and cost-free “check-in” calls to older adults who live alone or are socially isolated. For those receiving calls, it often means the difference between a life without human contact and one of connectivity. For Linda, this is everything. “When you hear ‘I don’t know what I’d do without these calls. You can’t imagine what they mean to me,’ that’s a very feel-good place to be. You have that desire to be of service, and you get that feeling of impact—it’s that dance of giving and taking.”
Beyond the TR program, Linda is exceptionally proud of Eskaton’s participation in the Senior Companions Program (SCP), sponsored locally by the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services. Since 1974, SCP has been providing daily assistance to older adults in ways that preserve dignity and foster independence. Linda says managing the program has been the highlight of her career, and feels the benefits are tremendous for participant and companion alike. “Our volunteers will tell you, they get as much as they give. It’s one hand helping the other.”
Program volunteer, Thomas Herget, agrees. “Our impact is immeasurable. And it’s been very beneficial to me mentally, and emotionally, and it’s not a lot, but that tax-free stipend has helped, too. It’s a win-win all the way around, for everybody.”
Linda believes the Senior Companions Program should be expanded—particularly because of its deep impact on the lives of those it serves—but like most government programs, SCP is vastly underfunded. Eskaton is one of only a handful of local entities that host the program, with Linda managing nearly half of all volunteers. Despite significant need, the program only has resources to support 30 or so companions throughout Sacramento County, meaning just over a hundred seniors get the assistance they require. “We’ve got to raise awareness about SCP,” Linda insists. “The program needs to be cloned everywhere. For some of the companions, it’s a full-time job. Grocery store trips, errands, doctor appointments— It’s even trips to the emergency room because some of these seniors don’t have anyone else.”
Even with these limitations, Linda remains hopeful for the future. As chair of the SCP advisory council, she knows the program’s benefits far outweigh its deficiencies. “Bringing comfort is important. Allowing people to be themselves is so important. We all need that,” she says. Linda plans on staying quite active with SCP after her time with Eskaton has ended, utilizing the platform to affect positive change. She strongly encourages others in the community—particularly seniors looking to stay active and connected—to visit the SCP website and contact program director Mark Snare to learn how they can contribute.
Beyond her admirable work for seniors in the Sacramento region, Linda continues to actively pursue another passion—transforming shapeless lumps of clay into intriguing pieces of art. A member of the Auburn Old Town Gallery, an artists’ cooperative nestled in historic Old Auburn, Linda has been exhibiting her work for over 20 years and sees no reason to hang up her apron just yet. “I do some painting and some other things, but my hands were meant for clay and ceramics. Once I got started, it was a marriage made in Heaven.” Finding inspiration in nature, the human spirit, and cultural differences, Linda creates pieces that encourage creative thinking and inspire emotional connection.
More than just a hobby, Linda views her art as the physical expression of her internal self, and feels strongly that more people could benefit by acknowledging those creative elements within. “We’re all creative beings, all of us. It’s what makes us human. So finding whatever it is that lights you up – that’s the ticket.” In her opinion, it is a lack of self-awareness that contributes to negative attitudes in older adults, a problem that could be alleviated by a shift in mindset. “I think it all comes down to attitude and thinking. Thinking creates your reality, so if you think there’s nothing left for you after a certain age, there won’t be. But if you’re an individual that can get excited about something, anything, and manage to do those things regularly, you’ll be much happier and healthier, much longer than those who don’t.”
Linda has been a valued member of the Eskaton team for 10 years, and will be greatly missed as she leaves us for new adventures. We send our love and respect to follow her, wherever Linda’s journey may take her.