Client Spotlight: Ron

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Ron is an 83-year-old retired teacher who loves reading and writing. It’s a part of who he is. He’s a writer. A prolific writer, in fact, with a published memoir, a collection of poems, and a way with words that leaves an indelible mark. He’s a poet. And like all of us, he’s more than a story. He’s a whole collection of them.  

Coming out as the first openly gay teacher in Morgan Hill, CA, nearly cost Ron his job. But his courage to stand up when others were telling him to sit down most certainly saved lives. He became an activist and advocate for queer students and teachers, publishing numerous materials related to queer students’ rights and fighting for a more inclusive school curriculum. He also founded organizations to support LGBTQ+ educators, youth, and families.  

Despite his past being the one to stand up and side-by-side others rallying for their rights, isolation and health issues have posed their challenges for Ron. This is common amongst LGBTQ+ older adults and adults with disabilities as they deal with stigma, discrimination, and lack of community in their daily lives.  

Although his two sons are his “mainstays” as he calls them, they are geographically distanced, which makes it hard to be there for Ron. So, he became connected to Shanti’s LGBTQ+ Aging and Abilities Support Network (LAASN) for its compassionate and supportive services for LGBTQ+ older adults and adults with disabilities. Ron is paired with a care navigator, Demetrius, and a peer support volunteer, Gabby, who are there for him even when his sons can’t be. 

At Shanti, we build human connections to reduce isolation.  

Although COVID-19 is an obstacle, it does not prevent us from continuing to foster meaningful and trusted personal connections with folks like Ron 

“Shanti has been there for me in recent years with supportive calls and visits,” said Ron. “In-person visits have had to stop, given the coronavirusThoughtful gifts arrive periodically that let me know I’m being thought of.” 

After the passing of LAASN’s program manager, Matthew Simmons, Ron’s care navigator, Demetrius, decided to launch a remote poetry group for clients. When Demetrius contacted Ron about the group, he was immediately receptive. “I’ve written poetry most of my life and love reading it. I wrote a volume entitled The Giovanni Poems that included photos of Giovanni,” said Ron. 

“Poetry is a form of art and, for some, a voice that is not otherwise heard or spoken,” stated Demetrius. “With our population, isolation causes a person to be deep in their thoughts…and can also cause a person to reflect on the past quite a bit, which may spiral into depression, feelings of loss, etc. Journal writing, writing poetry, song writing, spoken word, etc., can allow those feelings and emotions to be expressed.”  

When asked about his most memorable moment in the poetry group, Demetrius said, “it would probably have to be one of Ron’s poems (posted below).”  

At Shanti, we believe that when LGBTQ+ elders and individuals with disabilities are recognized and supported for who they truly are, they feel valued and empowered to vibrantly contribute to their community. As is evident in Ron’s writing, his fight for justice, humanity, and compassion continue to this day. Even though he is not able to fight for equal rights in-person, his words are powerful agents being deployed to remind us that we all must do the necessary work to make the world a better place—a just place—for everyone. 

Read Ron’s poem:   

Children in Cages …

Wrenching dimension
of modern democracy …
Separating children
at the border
from parents
tired, hungry, and
yearning to be free …

Lady Liberty’s torch
lighting the way
through increasingly besmirched venues

Are you desirable?
Do you deserve to come in?
What can you contribute?
Why is your skin so dark?
Where are your parents?

Let’s see …
We have a nice dry cage over here …
You can wait there while we process you … You kids in there, move over, make room …

We have more kids yearning to be free … 

Amrita with Graham and Sweet Pea (dog)

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