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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fairborn resident honored by Crossroads Hospice

Fairborn Daily Herald

Paul Collins, Staff Writer

The American psychologist and philosopher William James once said, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”

Nobody understands the truth of James’ words better than Fairborn resident Debbie Conn. For 12 years, she has been using her life to give the imperishable gift of love, participating in the lives of the elderly as a social worker. Conn’s work received the attention it deserves on Tuesday, Nov. 1, when the Crossroads Hospice honored the Fairborn social worker with the Caring More Award. For Conn, her selection for the award was a surprise.

“I was a little shocked,” said Conn. “I get a little bit embarrassed when I receive an award. It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s a bit difficult because I am not always expecting recognition. For me, working in this field is my award.”

Conn first wanted to enter social work when she was 21, but her husband at the time dissuaded her, claiming that the field’s monetary reward was lacking. For 11 years, the Fairborn resident worked in hospitals, doing blood work and conducting EKG’s. While it was not Conn’s first choice, hospital work provided the Fairborn resident with several different opportunities to help others.

“I realized that these people were coming in with bills they could not pay,” said Conn. “I would sit there and try to figure out how to help these people out.”

Determined to move into the realm of social work, Conn eventually returned to school, putting in long hours at Sinclair Community College to earn an associate degree in gerontology. The Fairborn resident successfully obtained the degree in 2000 and moved on to tackling a Bachelor’s degree in social work at Wright State University. In 2002, Conn received her Bachelor’s degree and went to work for Life Essentials, Inc. a Dayton-based organization that helps people who slip through the cracks in community services. Conn serves as a programs director with Life Essentials, Inc.

Among her many duties, the Fairborn social worker oversees “Chums,” a program that allows volunteers to spend their time with someone who is living with a mental illness. She also manages Life Essentials’ Guardianship program, a program made up of volunteers who speak for those who are no longer able to make important health care and living decisions. According to Conn, working with the elderly and lonely never grows old or bland.

“If you would just take the time to listen to these people, you would find that they have such wonderful stories,” said Conn. I’ve been doing this work for nine years and every day is different. There’s not one day that’s the same.”

From 2000 to 2002, Conn worked with the Greene County Council on Aging, where she initiated the “Adopt a Grandparent” program wit Cedarville University students and local seniors. The Fairborn social worker’s main focus has always been on the elderly. She expects the need for support for the aging to only increase as the baby boomers grow older.

“We’re an aging population,” said Conn. “We’re going to have a problem as baby boomers get into that age range. If you could imagine an empty rocking chair that’s rocking back and forth with no one there, that’s our elderly population. They have so much to tell us and nobody is listening.”

Conn’s next major goal is to return to school. She hopes to obtain her Master’s degree in social work. According to the Fairborn resident, the social work field has given her a greater appreciation for the value of volunteerism. She encourages others to find the reward in donating their time to another.

“Everybody needs volunteers,” said Conn. “I encourage people to volunteer in their community. Start giving back. When you give, you receive back more than you expected.”

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