When in doubt, go to Cameroon!
BY JACK YORK
Greetings from GRAND’s new associate publisher. This is a new title for me. I’m one of the founders of It’s Never 2 Late (IN2L). For almost 18 years IN2L has brought engagement technology to senior living communities. Our focus is to help residents who physically and cognitively struggle with conventional technology, and help them come alive through meaningful content.
When we started IN2L, some thought we were crazy. How would technology be relevant for people dealing with dementia? But we’ve won the doubters over…our technology is in 2,500 communities throughout the United States and we’re finishing up another year of 30+% growth.
Everyone can benefit from today’s technology. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are cognitively; we all want to stay relevant. We’re excited to bring our message of engagement through technology to GRAND, which has also been changing the aging paradigm for years now. I will be highlighting stories of remarkable residents and remarkable senior living caregivers, and how technology is bridging the generations.
When you reach a certain age, you have two choices when asked how you wound up where you are in your life.
For my first story, we’re heading off to Cameroon, a country in Central Africa. This has been a difficult year in America, where our differences seem to shout out louder than our similarities but the Cameroon trip reaffirmed my faith in human nature and restored my optimism.
Come along for the ride!
When you reach a certain age (in my case 58) you have two choices when asked how you wound up where you are in your life. You can spout out a well-honed story of charting and planning your career step-by-step, or you can tell the truth, which for most of us is the reality that random coincidences have put us in a position and a place that we could never have dreamed of.
I was having that exact thought on April 22nd of this year in the tiny village of Mbemba in northwest Cameroon as around 3,000 Cameroonian villagers rhythmically danced and chanted my mother Dorothy’s name while they sang praises to me. The event was the dedication of a senior center, named for my mother and funded through generous donations from close to a 100 Americans. It was a surreal event that I could never have dreamed of nor planned. It became a reality because a remarkable man in Cameroon named Francis decided to do something with a $500 donation.
My journey with Francis began in Perth, Australia in October of 2015. We were both invited to speak at the Global Aging Network conference, and either through coincidence or destiny we wound up on the same panel. I am fiercely proud of the work our company iN2L does. But when I heard Francis’ story, how he successfully, and almost singlehandedly, has stood up against policies that oppress women and the elderly in Cameroon, I felt a sense of awe and insignificance. We spoke briefly after his presentation, said goodbye and went our separate ways. But his spirit floated inside of me. He touched me in a way that I didn’t fully realize at the time.
After I returned to the US, I sent Francis a brief email of thanks and appreciation of his work and had our company send a modest check of $500, to honor his work. There were no strings attached and no expectations. It was just a small gesture of kindness for a man who has given up his life for the greater good. Usually, donations like that generate a return form letter (attempting not to look like a form letter) but Francis’ response rocked my world, and will ultimately rock the world of thousands of Cameroonian people.
Six weeks later, I received an innocuous email from Francis along with several attachments. To my amazement, Francis had taken the $500 and established the “Jack York Elderly Woman’s Sustainable Goat Rearing Project in Northwest Cameroon”.
He went to nine distinct villages in Cameroon and delivered each one of them a goat designed for long-term sustainability, to help foster his mission of people taking care of themselves and each other. Along with the narrative, Francis provided multiple videos of people chanting thanks to Jack York, a man of wisdom, for his generous donations to Cameroon. Are you kidding me?
After the insanity of the whole experience started to fade, the question hit me; what would this man and his organization do if they were given more money, say $20,000 or $30,000? With that in mind, and our company’s management having a spirit of gratitude, we invited Francis for his first visit to the US. We went on a two-week whirlwind trip covering Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, DC and New York. It was magical, not only seeing the joy and exuberance of Francis but also seeing our country open her arms and welcome this gregarious man from 7000 miles away. The fundraising was a success. The $30,000 in donations funded the first senior center of its kind in Cameroon, to be named Dorothy York, in honor of my mother.
Learn about the current project to keep girls from dropping out of school.
This is a story that has not ended. Rather, it’s a series of beginnings. If $500 can grow to $30,000, what’s the next step of the journey? Why not keep thinking bigger?
One of the painful realities in Cameroon that Francis educated me about, was the lack of bathrooms in the village schools, a scenario that causes thousands of girls to drop out of school before high school graduation.
Francis was back in the US earlier this year. We traveled to 15 states and are well on the way to funding latrines in several of his villages. Senior living communities here in the US are partnering with the villages, and we hope that this will be just the beginning…there is a need for so much more.
This April I’m heading back to Cameroon, hopefully with an army of colleagues, to help build bathrooms. Feel free to join us! Energy and creativity are in high demand.
To learn more, please contact dale@in2L.com, or log into our Gofundme link
So, the message is simple. Whether you send the $500 check or receive the $500 check, we are all change agents on this marvelous planet of ours. And if you keep your eyes open and look beyond your current situation, you might start the next revolution to make things better. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a goat named after you!
In summary, greetings GRAND readers! If you know of work being done to connect older adults with technology, let me know. I’d be happy to meet with them and tell their story. We live in a remarkable time and it’s an honor to be able to celebrate successful connections being made from generation-to-generation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JACK YORK
As you can see from his first article for GRAND, Jack York is more than the president and founder of Its Never 2 Late, a highly successful technology company serving thousands of elder citizens and the communities who provide their care; Jack is a man on a mission to help spread the words and deeds of real humanitarians that inspire, educate and motivate.