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Inspire Awards 2012 Honoree

Irene Zola, Crusader for the Elderly

Irene Zola, AARP The Magazine Inspire Awards 2012 Honoree

Irene Zola — Photo by Chris Crisman

Irene Zola loved to boast to friends about her elderly mother's independence. Not only did her mom, Faye, live by herself into her 90s; she also "drove until she was 91 and played piano at family functions," says Zola, 66. After a stroke at 97, however, Faye was left partially paralyzed and had to move into a nursing home. Her first night there, Zola recalls, "I found my mother moaning in bed with all her clothing and bedding soaked in urine." Faye passed away a few months later, but Zola couldn't sleep, thinking about her mother's plight. Not long afterward she founded Lifeforce in Later Years, a nonprofit whose goal is to improve the quality of life for every community's oldest members. The first project? Morningside Village, which pairs 57 seniors in Manhattan with 70 volunteers, who help with such tasks as grocery shopping, preparing meals, and getting to doctors' appointments. Morningside has been such a success that Zola has put together guidelines to help other communities across the country develop similar groups. "The volunteers get very close to their seniors," Zola says. "They really start to feel as though they're family."

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