Barbara Beaman isn’t crazy about the title ‘exceptional elder.’ “I hate public recognition,” she said, “and there are plenty of people who do just as much as I do and maybe more.” That may be the case, but it is also true that in her almost eight years at Wake Robin, the 80-year-old Beaman has become an impressive example of volunteer spirit.
Beaman starting teaching elementary school in 1959 and continued as a substitute after retiring in 2003. She was living in a large house that dated back to 1790 when friends from New Hampshire who had relocated to Vermont, suggested she check out Wake Robin. “This was the perfect answer,” she said. “It was better than any place I saw near where I lived.”
Since Beaman had been around kids her entire working life, it was natural that her first volunteer efforts were at Shelburne Elementary School, although it helped that her “honorary grandchildren” were enrolled there. Rather than mentor individual children, Beaman works with entire classrooms from kindergarten to fourth grade.
“Mostly what I do is read with kids,” she said, “and walk around and help with class projects.” Beaman currently spends four days a week at the school.
Beaman’s relationship with Shelburne Farms started with a piece of classroom furniture that didn’t fit in her apartment. Someone suggested she donate it to their preschool program and after visiting, she decided to volunteer there, as well. She spends one morning a week working with three- and four-year-old children.
“It’s such a wonderful place,” Beaman said. “I love what they stand for educationally and ecologically.”
When Beaman initially moved to Wake Robin, there was an annual food drive for the Shelburne Food Shelf around Christmas. “It was a gigantic pile of stuff that someone had to schlep down there,” she said, “and I thought we should do it on a routine basis, instead.” Beaman praises the food shelf as “the most well-run operation you could imagine” and notes that a number of other Wake Robin residents volunteer there. Beaman recognizes that people perceive Shelburne to be a wealthy community with little or no food insecurity, but that’s not the case. “There is definitely a need,” she said. “There are elderly people as well as families with children. There are people who are working two jobs for the minimum wage and all their money goes to putting a roof over their heads.” Beaman noted that the number of people visiting the food shelf has increased greatly over the years. “People are very grateful,” she said. “It’s a rewarding thing to be able to help.”
Beaman is happy to be living at Wake Robin with people she describes as “wonderful, interesting, kind and funny,” but she also enjoys the opportunity to get out and spend time with a different age demographic. In addition to her volunteering, Beaman stays busy by singing with the South County Chorus in Hinesburg. She is active at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Burlington and she enjoys reading, knitting, and spinning wool. For five years, she was the co-chair of Wake Robin’s Nature Committee, which arranged local hikes and walks. Beaman recently joined several other residents in taking recorder lessons and the group plays duets, trios and quartets.
“You really can teach an old dog new tricks,” she said.