Tennis, Pickleball, and Meals-on-Wheels, A True Story!
How a Healthy Sports Competition Led to a Healthy Love of Helping
What do racquet sports and a passion for community service have in common? For Meals-on-Wheels volunteers Curtis Smith and Joseph Penn—a lot! A chance meeting on a tennis court a few years ago turned out to be the catalyst for a lasting friendship and their newly discovered love of volunteering with Senior Services.
After years of friendly tennis matches, the two decided to switch things up and gave pickleball a try. According to Smith, “Joe has had some good ideas. The first one was pickleball—the second was Meals-on-Wheels.” They not only loved the challenge of the new game but also the new community of friends that came along with it. But the new game was just the beginning.
Penn had seen appeals for new Meals-on-Wheels volunteers on television and in local publications during Senior Services’ lead up to returning to daily hot meal deliveries once things began to open back up from COVID-19 in the spring of 2021. He recognized the value of Meals-on-Wheels and the positive impact volunteers make on the lives of older adults in our community. With some free time on his hands during retirement, and a desire to give back to the community, he knew he could help. And he thought Smith might be open to the idea of volunteering too. Both agreed they would explore the opportunity and together stopped by the Senior Services office to learn more about the program and how they could get involved.
While Penn came up with the idea that the two volunteer, it was Smith who jumped right in. He completed his application within days of their initial visit to Senior Services and made plans for a “ride along” with a current volunteer. He chose Ardel Meisinger, a longtime Meals-on-Wheels volunteer, who just so happened to be a pickleball teammate, for his partner. “We’ve known each other for a year or two and he’s very, very supportive and he said, well, come on, let’s go.” With Meisinger more than happy to show Smith the ropes, the two headed out for Meisinger’s Assembly Terrace route. Smith credits the experience with giving him a deeper understanding of the Meals-on-Wheels program and its mission. “I think what’s so valuable, aside from the food, is the relationship. A lot of people were just happy to see us. Exchanging pleasantries like a simple, “good morning,” or “your yard looks nice,” with our participants really made their day.”
Smith was hooked. Within weeks, he had a route of his own. He first committed to delivering the Food Lion route three times per month on Thursdays – then quickly realized that he wanted to do more. Two months later he added the Midtown route to his schedule and now volunteers every Thursday. He continues to build relationships with the participants on his routes and is now doing “ride alongs” of his own.
Guess who joined him on his very first ride along? That’s right – the friend who suggested they volunteer to begin with – Joe Penn. When Penn returned his application, Smith was the perfect person to provide that extra dose of reassurance that his friend needed to commit to a route of his own. Penn said, “Curtis jumped right in, but I wanted to see how things went before I signed my name on the dotted line.”
Penn now has his own route too, and when asked what he would say to someone considering volunteering with Meals-on-Wheels, his answer is simple. “Why not? Why not turn off the tv, get out there and help someone who is in need and appreciates what you are doing?” Smith agreed and added that delivering meals, “is like an exercise itself, mental and emotional—and it’s great.” So great in fact, that Smith has already recruited two more volunteers to the program, with more in the works. Penn plans to follow his lead and do some recruiting of his own.
For those interested in finding out more about the program and how to volunteer, Penn has the following advice. “Just stop by, introduce yourself and see if Meals-on-Wheels is a good fit for you.” He promises that you won’t be disappointed. “I tell you; you get a lot out of it. There’s a lot in it, and I get as much as I give.” He’ll even take you on a ride along, with one requirement. “Remember to bring your smile if you’re riding with me.”
To learn more about the Ride Along program, and how you can get involved with Meals-on-Wheels, contact Britnee Tellez at 336-721-3411 or email email@example.com.