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Spouse touches lives as volunteer

  • Published
  • By Vanessa Edwards
  • 88th ABW Public Affairs
Iris Solomon greets me at the Nightingale House with warm laughter. "Nobody ever rings the door bell," she says, as I follow her into the duplex on Red Budd Lane.

Once she realizes I've come to see her, she averts her eyes just slightly. "I just like to do it," she says, referring to her work at the Fisher Nightingale Houses.

Iris Solomon is a volunteer, and for a split second, I feel guilty that I have come to expose her good deeds.

We head down a short hallway through the living room and to a kitchen table where Iris has been folding towels. I see no one else around, but have a feeling we are not alone. Perhaps someone is sleeping upstairs.

Iris first became a Fisher House volunteer three years ago while at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Her husband, Col. Otha Solomon, was the commander of the dental squadron and Fisher House fell under his command.

But don't get Ms. Solomon wrong; she said she felt no pressure to volunteer just because she was a commander's spouse. She does what she wants to do, Ms. Solomon said, and she does it from her heart.

In fact, Ms. Solomon has been a volunteer most of her life, she says, but there was "more to it" at the Fisher House. She recalls her experience at Andrews simply: Patients and their families came in, and she was there for them. These patients were children, spouses, veterans and active-duty members, some wounded in the war on terrorism and some suffering cancer and other illnesses.

"I was exposed to a lot of pain and a lot of happiness," she says, reflecting on her time at Andrews. "You get touched by it."

Two years later in July 2005, the couple came to Wright-Patterson, and Ms. Solomon resumed her volunteer work about two months later. The concept is similar to Andrews.

"It's an emotional thing," Ms. Solomon said. "I enjoy it .... (It) makes you feel blessed."

But one can't help but wonder. How does she do it? Not everyone is cut out for such an emotional environment.

"I do what I think they need, and I cry on my own," Ms. Solomon said. She said she gets teary just thinking about it. "Every morning you can say 'thank you,'" she said.

And she has plenty to be grateful for herself. Ms. Solomon is a cancer survivor, but this is not why she volunteers at Fisher House, she says. Her illness 10 years ago has helped her to relate to those who are ill now, she said, but she explains why she volunteers this way: "Life is more than having...," she says, searching for the right word. "We can be so 'me, me, me.'"

Ms. Solomon says being a volunteer at Fisher Nightingale House puts her directly in touch every day with what one of the most important things in life: relationships.

"We all need someone," she says.

We talked generally about the relationships Ms. Solomon has made here at Fisher Nightingale House, careful to protect the privacy of her residents.

"We just talk," she says as she resumes folding towels. She describes the support, camaraderie and "pick-me-up" she tries to provide patients and their families. Ms. Solomon says she takes them to the mall and to the base thrift shop or shops for their favorite German bread.

"Sometimes it's a motherly thing," says the mother of three, who recently knocked on a resident's door to make sure he had taken his medications.

And then the time comes when residents have to leave Fisher Nightingale House.

"I hate to see them go," she says. However, when their prognosis is good, she describes a great feeling. When the news isn't good, she says she just keeps her demeanor positive. She stays strong for their sake. "It's a special bond," she says.

By now, Ida Roe, a Fisher House employee, has joined us. She replies for Ms. Solomon when I ask how often she volunteers.

"She's almost like a piece of furniture!" she says.

Ms. Solomon gives about six hours a day at Fisher Nightingale House, up to five days a week. I ask her to imagine doing the same for money, but she can't. Something is lost in translation.

"Age changes you," Ms. Solomon says as we conclude our afternoon together.

Time and experience seem to have filled her with compassion, she says, a strength and empathy that she now can give away freely to others. Perhaps, that's what the "me years" are about? I ask her. Could they be a time to discover what we have to give? "Hmmm ... maybe," she says.

What is certain is that Ms. Solomon gets a lot for what she gives, and she gives a lot.

"It just feels good to help other people," she says.

(Editor's note: Ms. Solomon received the volunteer of the quarter award June 23.)