Psychological studies say we get more pleasure in the long run by spending money on experiences rather than things, but many of us forgo those experiences either for lack of money or time, often until we think it is just too late.
Amanda Shanklin, activities director at Eagle Cove Assisted Living in Eagle Point, administers a program called "Ageless Dreams," which is designed to fulfill the secret wishes of retired residents.
Shanklin tries to find ways to give residents the experiences they never quite got around to earlier in life and helps them fulfill their dreams.
Shanklin questions residents about what would make them happy and then — on a very limited budget — randomly picks wishes to grant. Some can be complicated to fulfill, such as Eva Hoffer's wish to go on a hot-air balloon ride. Balloonist Drew Brown volunteered to bring his balloon to Eagle Cove, where 87-year-old Hoffer and two fellow residents were able to go up and view their neighborhood from a new vantage point. Brown offered rides to any of the residents.
"It was so much fun," says Hoffer, her eyes lighting up months later with the still-fresh memory. "I never thought it would be possible. Some of the others were scared to go up, but I didn't see anything to be scared of."
Rex Johnson went up in the balloon with Hoffer and was surprised more of the residents didn't join them.
"My granddaughter was here," he says. "I tried to get her to come up with me, but she was chicken, so she just took pictures."
Other wishes are more mundane but just as important. Recently Shanklin got a professional photographer to take a photo of one of the residents and her five grown children. They hadn't had a photo of all of them together in many years. Now their mother can look up every day and see images of her children as they are now, important when she can't actually see them every day.
Another resident was distraught thinking that the stories of his life would be lost when he died. A videographer was hired to make a documentary of the resident telling his stories, interspersed with photos from his past. When the recording was finished, Eagle Cove held a movie night — complete with popcorn — so all the residents could see his film.
"Working with the elderly, you come across so many different backgrounds and histories," says Bryan Herrmann, Eagle Cove community-relations director. "It's important they know their lives are valued."
Eagle Cove tries to fulfill one wish a month. Next up will be Bernie Sleeper, who retired after 33 years as head groundskeeper at California's Pebble Beach Golf Course, considered one of the world's best courses.
Sleeper, who turned 80 in December, is a full-blood Arapahoe who grew up on the reservation in Oklahoma then went off to war in Korea. During his years at Pebble Beach, Sleeper met many celebrities, including Bing Crosby, who sponsored an annual competition at the course. Sleeper also once had the opportunity to play 18 holes with Clint Eastwood.
"A real gentleman," says Sleeper.
Because they can't fulfill Sleeper's real wish, which is to get back the driver's license his doctor took away two years ago, Eagle Cove will take him out to play golf at a world-class course on the coast. He'll get to do a little traveling and enjoy his favorite pastime.
And then it will be someone else's turn to learn wishes CAN come true.