As the wife of an Air Force pilot, Diane Hight and her family moved often, but she always found time to volunteer in nursing homes. "I loved seniors," she says, "and I wanted to do what I could to see that their needs were being met."
When her husband took a job with FedEx and they relocated to Memphis 12 years ago, Hight stayed busy raising her children. One day, when her youngest son was graduating from high school and she knew she'd have time on her hands, Hight turned on the 6 p.m. national news to hear a story about an organization in Indianapolis fulfilling the wish of an 80-year-old woman who'd always wanted to ride in a race car. In that moment, Hight's future was clear.
In August 2006, she founded Forever Young Senior Wish Organization, and since then she and a handful of volunteers, including her husband, Gregory Hight, have made wishes reality for more than 20 individuals age 65 or over. Wishes run the gamut, but many are modest. When Hight talks to people in nursing homes and asks what they yearn for, most will say, "God has been good to me; I don't need anything." But when she presses, they'll open up.
One nursing home resident asked for new items for his room. "He was bedridden with a horrible TV," says Hight. "So we got him a new TV, plus a CD player and some [audio books]. He'd never had those and loved them. He said his life was so much better," adds Hight, whose organization also took him history magazines and his favorite snacks.
Another resident had not been outside the nursing home doors in nine years. When a friend contacted Forever Young, Hight and other volunteers not only took her on an outing but also conducted a "scavenger hunt," getting companies to donate gifts. "The lady loves animals so we got her a Build-A-Bear and we also took her to an animal hospital and she got to see a kitten and a puppy. We got her flowers and a barbecue sandwich."
An Elvis fan with a terminal illness received a long-hoped-for trip to Graceland and Tupelo. Another was reunited with a brother in Phoenix he hadn't seen in 18 years. Still others flew a helicopter for the first time and an airplane for the last time. A man who'd never owned new clothes was treated to a "shopping spree," and a depressed woman was cheered after a day at a local spa. "We see common threads among many seniors," says Hight. "Loneliness, illness, depression, regrets, so having a wish come true can lift their burdens."
Perhaps the most modest request was a pair of rocking chairs. "The lady is homebound," says Hight. "Now when she sits on her porch, people who normally wouldn't are stopping by to chat."
Forever Young depends on contributions, in-kind gifts, and help from volunteers — including attorney David Pickler who donates legal advice — to help satisfy seniors' wishes. "We're limited to approximately $300 per wish," says Hight. "The most expensive would probably run $600."
Right now Hight is seeking to charter a flight to Washington, D.C., so that a group of World War II and Korean War veterans can visit the memorial there. "So many things we enjoy today are here because of the generation before us," says Hight, who is 49. "It's satisfying to try to bring these people joy and make them feel special."
Hight also notices that one granted wish can lead to other acts of kindness. She tells of a blind woman who wanted only a "talking watch." After the volunteers satisfied that simple request, one of them gave the woman her Frequent Flyer miles so she could fly to Chicago to meet family. Says Hight: "Her life is so much fuller since that one wish."
For more information, go to foreveryoungonline.org or call 901-854-2207.