Every Thursday, you can find New Orleanian Gail Rouen at Terraces on Tulane, our Mid-City housing facility for seniors. Rouen began volunteering earlier this year. “I hit it off with everyone,” she says enthusiastically. “Their stories melt my heart I love listening to them and hearing about their backgrounds.”
Rouen’s interest in volunteering was piqued at a Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans breakfast, which she attended with a group from her husband’s company. Soon, she was volunteering at the Terraces, which serves lower-income persons 62 and over. Her assignment: be a friendly helper, doing whatever residents need, be it light housekeeping or sharing a meal. She quickly discovered she and the residents enjoyed their time together.
The staff then asked if she would take on a special project, working with resident Ronald, known for creating art from everyday objects. His apartment was overfilled with his late mother’s belongings and other items. Rouen began helping him sort out what to keep.
“We have a wonderful relationship,” she says. “We trust each other and have wonderful conversations.” All the while, Ronald’s apartment is being cleared and organized, with Rouen taking things he no longer needs to charity.
“Gail is God-sent,” Ronald exclaims. “She was sent to me right on time.” Ronald, who has lived at the Terraces for five years, remembers how depressed he was over his mother’s death. “I know how to clean and organize, I just couldn’t do it. Gail helped me see things better. She’s become a good friend and is highly intelligent. I don’t have to Google, I just ask Gail.”
Rouen encourages others to volunteer. “The rewards are so great. You feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. You can work out a plan to give however much time you have.”
Sandra Smith, at age 63, attends many concerts and football games. She works as an usher at the Superdome, and her part-time occupation suits her lighthearted, helpful nature perfectly.
Sandra understands how important living independently is, so three days a week she travels to Volunteers of America’s senior adult living facility on Tulane Avenue to help “make life a little easier,” for those who she knows have already worked so hard.
Her call to action began when her mother, age 86, began needing help with fine motor skill tasks such as retrieving dishes or doing laundry. Sandra says that her mother has done a lot in her life and, in fact, still drives. But Sandra saw the opportunity to relieve her from small burdens so that her day ran more efficiently. Sandra’s belief is: since she can lend a helping hand, she will—so she turned to Volunteers of America to extend her reach. Now, she makes regular visits to residents’ apartments to share her smile and her time, assisting with things like ironing or simply wiping a table—small, thoughtful actions that make a big difference in the flow and enjoyment of a senior adult’s day.
Senior independent living often includes small aids like handrails or walkers; but, what is equally important is connection to others—the ability to help and be helped. So as February, which is National Senior Independence Month, continues remember the ones who have paved the way directly or indirectly for you, and do as Sandra does: lend a helping hand.
Are you inspired by Sandra’s story and want to get involved, too? Contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Logan Ebel at email@example.com or (504) 486-8699 to learn more about volunteering with us.
Alfred ‘Rabbit’ Dyer was one of the original African American caddies on the PGA Tour. Rabbit was Gary Player’s caddy from 1972-1990, and was one of the Big 3 caddies on the American PGA Tour. (The other two were Angelo Argea who caddied for Jack Nicklaus, and Creamy Carolan, who caddied for Arnold Palmer.)
Standing at 6’5” Rabbit is a tall, striking man always nicely dressed wearing a straw hat and jewelry he acquired during his time as a professional caddy. Rabbit is known in the Terraces community for his rolling, jolly laugh and his fascinating stories.
Rabbit grew up in the Holly Grove neighborhood of New Orleans in the 1940’s and 50’s. He started working as a caddy at Metairie Country Club with his father at age 9. “Caddying to me was a way to make a living. I’d come from a poor family of eight kids, and caddying was a way to help my mother.” Rabbit’s caddy job continued through his high school days at Booker T. Washington, where he earned his life-long nickname from his basketball coach because of his leaping abilities.
In high school, at the age of 15, Rabbit, at the urging of his father, caddied in the New Orleans Open for Gary Player. After high school, Rabbit took various caddy jobs around the country at PGA tournaments. During that time, traveling for African Americans was challenging. “We used to travel by Greyhound Bus – in the back of the bus where it said ‘Colored Patrons Only’. When we got off the bus, we had to change our clothes in the woods or parking lot and then go walk the golf course. That was back when the PGA Tour had a Caucasian only clause in their bylaws.” Another challenge during this time was that traveling caddies did not have a consistent income. Players that did not have a full-time caddy would utilize the “grab bag” system, similar to a lottery, for selecting a caddy per tournament. During those years he caddied for Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Dave Stockton and Lee Trevino.At the age of 25, Rabbit had the opportunity to reconnect with Gary Player. As Rabbit recalls, “I was working in Birmingham, Michigan (Oakland Hills) at the PGA Championship there in 1972. I talked with Gary about working for him the next week in the World Series of Golf, which he would qualify for if he were able to win that week. Gary told me that his regular caddy had gone back to South Africa, and if he were to win the PGA that week I would have the bag. He did, and sure enough I worked the World Series the next week which he also won!” This was the beginning of an 18 year career as Gary Player’s caddy.
Rabbit’s career as Gary Player’s caddy allowed him to travel the country and the world. Although racial tensions had cooled in the States, Rabbit faced adversity abroad. Rabbit was the first African American caddy in both the South African Open and British Open during the early 1970’s. One of his first trips abroad was to Gary Player’s home country of South Africa in 1974, during the height of the country’s apartheid. There was much opposition to his presence at both tournaments, but Gary Player stood by his side. “Gary Player was a sportsman and he figured that everybody should play sports together. Gary used his position to help promote desegregation in South Africa. In that respect he was a pioneer.”
Despite the adversity Rabbit faced in his caddy career, it also provided him with great joy, unforgettable experiences and the ability to provide for his family. His first accomplishment was buying a house for his mother, and later in his career he was able to put his son through college at Princeton University. “If it wasn’t for Gary Player I wouldn’t have gotten to do all that.”
Although Rabbit still caddies at the annual Legends of Golf Tournament, he is retired. He is currently living in New Orleans at the Volunteers of America Terraces apartments for senior citizens. Rabbit found out about the Terraces after being displaced to Houston after Hurricane Katrina. Rabbit enjoys his life back home in New Orleans surrounded by family and old friends. During his career there was not a retirement plan in place for the PGA caddies, so he is grateful that Volunteers of America provides the Terraces for lower income senior citizens. “People are very nice here and I love to socialize with fellow residents in the common area.”
The Terraces at Tulane is a newly constructed 200 Unit Senior Housing Development with a 3,000 square-foot community center and health clinic located at 3615 Tulane Avenue in New Orleans. It is managed by the Renaissance Neighborhood Development Corporation, a partnership between Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans and Volunteers of America’s national office to create 1,000 housing units in post-Katrina New Orleans. The Terraces replaces a development located in New Orleans East that was rendered inoperable by the storm.
All apartments at the Terraces are one-bedroom units and provide housing for senior residents aged 62 and older who have incomes at or below 50% of the area median income. The location offers excellent access to public transit, medical care services, and basic commercial services. Two other major tax credit developments are now under construction within six blocks east of the site.
For more info on the Terraces at Tulane, visit RNDC’s website here, or call 504-482-2440 to reserve an apartment.