EAST BREMERTON — Alys Arionus isn't done yet.
The East Bremerton resident, who celebrated her 100th birthday Sept. 10, volunteered from her 60s into her 80s at an adult day care center run by Lutheran Social Services. After the Senior Outreach Support Center program ended, she turned to making crochet blankets for sick kids, domestic violence victims and nursing home residents.
And she's still at it.
Alys is a member of the Kitsap Needle Arts Guild, aka "NAGs." Through the group, she churns out "afghans" (crocheted blankets) and lap throws for Project Linus, an organization that distributes handmade blankets to children who are ill or traumatized, Abraham's House, a local group that brings blankets to nursing homes, and the YWCA's ALIVE shelter for people dealing with domestic abuse.
Full disclosure: I've known Alys since back in the day when she first worked at the Senior Outreach Support Center. I wasn't quite 30; she wasn't quite 70. Where did the time go?
I was the site coordinator for the center, which provided activities and supervision for people with physical and cognitive impairments. The other "employees" were all volunteers, like Alys, many years my senior. Some had disabilities of their own — one woman was legally blind — yet here they were taking care of people in some cases younger than themselves.
Alys was like Old Faithful. You could always count on her to show up and pitch in, calmly, efficiently and with great compassion for the participants. She signed on as a volunteer after seeing a newspaper ad for help needed at the center in Port Orchard. She later worked at the Bremerton location.
"It hit a bell with me," she said. "I kind of wanted to do something for society. It was the right thing to do."
Alys didn't drive, so she took the Paratransit bus to the center, like some of the participants.
Alys and the other volunteers led the participants in games like dominoes and cribbage. I was not a crafty person. Thank heaven for Alys and the others who came up with clever ideas for simple crafts that even people with impairments could do. Tabletop bowling, seated exercises and singing were some of the other pastimes at the center.
Lunch, delivered by Chuckwagon meal service for seniors, was part of the day, served by the volunteers. We all ate family style.
"I enjoyed it so much. They were nice people," Alys said. "I enjoyed helping somebody."
For the participants, the center was their main source of socializing and entertainment. For family members, it provided a much-needed respite.
Alys and the other volunteers exuded good cheer and encouragement, even with participants who were difficult to supervise, or just plain cranky. The volunteers — as people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s — were dealing with their own aches, pains and ailments, but they set it all aside while they worked at the center.
I learned so much from Alys and the others, much of which I'm trying to put into practice now that I'm aging ... hopefully with at least a fraction of the grace they exhibited.
I recently visited Alys at the home she shares with her daughter, Nancy VanBuskirk. She walked easily through the kitchen to give me a hug, looking much as I remember her during our senior center days.
“I feel really good all the time,” she said.
True, she has a bit of a back problem and her doctor is keeping an eye on her heart, but overall her health is phenomenal. Alys nimbly recalled names of people and details about the center that were cloudy in my mind.
Alys stays busy making afghans, not only for charity but for her five children, 11 grandchildren, 13 great grand-children and one great-great-grandchild. She and Nancy regularly play cards with friends.
Alys had not one, but two parties for her 100th birthday — one in July for long-distance family, the other Sept. 10 for more family and friends. Her faith remains her mainstay.
The doctor is trying to claim credit for Alys reaching 100, she said, with a smile. He's given her "another 20 years." She's not sure how she feels about that. Looking at her daughter Nancy, she quipped, "I'll have to take care of you!"