Volunteering Keeps This Senior’s Heart Beating with Love

It was almost fifty years ago when Marilyn Chigas’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Marilyn prayed that if her mother could survive the disease, Marilyn would dedicate herself to “work for God till the day I die.”  Her mother lived another thirteen years and Marilyn has been volunteering and working in her community ever since that promise.  Marilyn Chigas of Peabody has what she describes as a “heart for people.”

Marilyn worked for Catholic Charities for thirty-six years. During that time she fostered young children and operated a daycare in her home.  She has been involved with 400 foster children in her career.  She has a keepsake album filled with photos of all the children she cared for and can share stories about several of them.

There are those who still connect with her. Most recently a now thirty-eight year old man who lived with Marilyn and her husband from infancy to over three years old until his adoption, visited with her this past Christmas.  His adoptive parents became like brother and sister to Marilyn.  Marilyn admits she gets very close to people.

Marilyn witnessed many sad stories for the children who came through her home. She went through seven open-heart surgeries with various children as a surrogate parent.  She knew there were tough beginnings for these children.  Her gift was seeing past that and opening her heart and home to give everything she could; hoping to make any difference possible.

Marilyn suffered her own family tragedy when one of her three sons died suddenly at the age of twenty-one from an undiagnosed heart disease. She takes comfort in knowing that he never suffered and that his eyes were donated to two separate women and his skin was donated to a young burn victim.

Her husband Nick died seventeen years ago. Marilyn became a caregiver to Nick who developed dementia, while still running a daycare in her home.  With such a demanding schedule, Marilyn did not have spare time to give.  Nick needed to be admitted to a rehab facility for three months, during which time Marilyn volunteered on the weekends at the facility while visiting her husband.  She brought him home for the last sixteen days of his life because she knew that is where he wanted to die.

After Nick passed, she started going to Church again, something she had not done for years, much to the chagrin of her mother. She became a member of a prayer group with eight other women and with this group started volunteering at the Middleton Jail, serving as a Eucharistic Minister during Masses two days a week.

Marilyn continues her volunteer work at the jail every Sunday. She has gotten to know several inmates over the years and keeps in touch with them.  They call her “mom.”  “I don’t make any judgements. I never ask what they did to end up in jail but sometimes they get close to me and confide in me.”

The Peabody Council on Aging has been a mainstay in Marilyn’s life for nineteen years. She and her husband first went together for lunches. She now participates in activities and volunteers regularly when needed.  “I can’t say enough about the Peabody Council on Aging.  It’s the most wonderful place.  I’ve made many friends there.  I would tell anyone looking to be involved to go to the Senior Center.”

Marilyn declares she doesn’t have time to be sick. In addition to her volunteer work, Marilyn accompanies a friend each Saturday to a long term care facility where her friend’s mother lives.  Saturday Mass in Lynn with a friend is now part of her weekly routine.  She likes to go an hour early to socialize beforehand.

She does not want to stop volunteering so that is her motivation to keep moving and doing. Despite macular degeneration, arthritis, and daily pain in her leg when walking, Marilyn is able to maintain her independence while remaining in her own home.  North Shore Elder Services coordinates an hour and a half of home-making services for Marilyn.  That is all she feels she needs at this point.

Marilyn is accurate in her self-description. She has a kind and generous heart for others.  Marilyn leaves a legacy of those who have benefited from her giving of herself.  She is intent on continuing in her mission to serve.

Marilyn is just one of our consumers who we meet on a daily basis. By being there for her, North Shore Elder Services helps Marilyn be there for others.  Through your donations, you too can help people like Marilyn in accomplishing the goal of living independently and contributing to their communities.

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month.  North Shore Elder Services offers many opportunities to become involved as a volunteer. See our website at https://nselder.org/about-our-volunteers-2/ for further information.


Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

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