When many people think of their golden years, they envision retiring from their jobs to take life slow and relax at home. Instead, 78-year old Smithtown resident Sally Economou took on another full-time career: helping others.
Originally from Akron, Ohio, Economou moved to Smithtown with her husband and four children in 1970. She began working as a dietician at Community Hospital in Smithtown, where she supervised the meal service and educated patients about the relationship between diet and medical conditions. Economou continued to work at the hospital until it closed in 1996.
At 65, an age when many people retire, Economou had no plans of slowing down. She had been a volunteer with the Visiting Nurse Hospice of Suffolk for 22 years, and began looking for additional volunteer opportunities to continue to keep busy.
Economou found a group called the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) of Suffolk, where volunteers age 55 and older help homebound senior citizens experiencing a lonely and dull day-to-day life.
RSVP offers a telephone reassurance program where volunteers collectively call over 400 homebound seniors Monday through Friday to check up on how they are doing and to socialize. The agency also offers friendly visiting, where volunteers visit the homes of seniors to provide companionship and assistance for activities.
Economou takes part in both of RSVP's programs and has volunteered over 3000 hours of her time.
"It is a worthwhile, fun, and rewarding thing to do," Economou said. "Volunteering is something you almost do for yourself because you always gain from helping others."
"She is really an inspiration," said Pegi Orsino, executive director of RSVP. "Sally is full of compassion, love, and energy."
Economou's favorite part of volunteering with RSVP is getting to know different people and becoming a part of their lives.
"You make friends with these people, and they become lifelong friendships," Economou said.
Before the Community Hospital of Smithtown closed, Economou coordinated GLAD, the Good Life and Diabetes support group. Diabetes awareness remains important to Economou so she decided to continue the group as a volunteer coordinator. GLAD now meets the third Saturday of every month at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown.
Economou's latest endeavor was putting her collie through dog therapy school, which trains dogs to visit special needs groups. The dog became certified as a therapy dog in January and Economou looks forward to finding volunteer opportunities for her dog as well.
"The rewards you get are always more than what you give," she said.