Voting: Keeping Hope Alive with Stories of Two Elderly Community Residents

Linda M. Thigpen is with Ms. Jane and Ms. Pat

 By Linda M. Thigpen

This weekend, my faith in voters and their willingness to vote was revitalized upon meeting two elderly women affectionally called Ms. Pat and Ms. Jean. They both lived in the Lake Forrest community in West Park Florida. We met them while volunteering in their community distributing door hangers containing non-partisan important voter information and notices of a new Early Voting location in their neighborhood.

The precinct in which they reside was identified as a low performing voting precinct across many voting cycles. It was targeted with hopes or getting more interest and participation from residents to increase voter turnout there. The community’s demographic is comprised, primarily, of Black and Hispanic residents.

The first interaction with a resident was Ms. Pat who was working in her yard. Just finishing up edging her lawn, she looked up at me and returned my greeting with a smile. Then, asked, “what’s y’all doing?”

Her question was the opportunity to share why we were walking the neighborhood. The exchange allowed her to have her question answered and us to hear her views and reactions to us. The reception was warm and engaging. So much so, she responded as if she was talking to a friend or acquaintance. Without reservation she embraced why we were there and quickly called her husband over to share news of the new early voting location in the neighborhood. He briefly stopped what he was doing to come over as she explained they didn’t have to leave their area now.

Upon commenting on her yard work, without reservation, she gladly began to share her story. “Doing the yard is a blessing for me,” she shared “and doing it with the use of one working lung.” Because of her health, she was forced to retire from a job she absolutely loved.

After working 29 years, Ms. Pat retired from Broward School system as a cafeteria manager. And, despite her health challenges, she communicated her fighting spirit and zest for life. We chatted a while longer acting as if we were old friends catching up.

Voting was not central to our encounter; it was something that she and her husband obviously does. Engaging strangers in her neighborhood was less common and sharing her story proved more intriguing.  After our engagement, we took pictures an obtained consent to share her story.

Ms. Jean Strowder was another delight to meet. She simply wanted to be called Ms. Jean. Talking to her was like talking to a relative at your family reunion. You know the family member who knew all family members and asked you if you knew them too. She wanted to know who you were and whether you knew the same people she knew. So, happens, I know two individuals.

When Ms. Jean was approached and informed of our visit, she promptly informed me her Vote By Mail Ballot (VBM) had already been returned to the Supervisor of Elections Office. Then she inquired if I knew an individual named Carolyn Hardy. Ms. Hardy has known Ms. Jane for many years and assists her in whatever she needs. She also ensures Ms. Jane casts her ballot each year and that she is well abreast of issues and candidates on the ballot.  She was pleased to hear a new location for Early Voting was within the community but wanted to me to know her preferred method of voting was by mail. When asked if I could answer any questions or assist her further, she informed me that she has had a reliable community supporter in Ms. Hardy and Eric George, a local Funeral Homeowner, whom she considers a son. Yes, I knew him too. I had visited his business when it was relatively new and remembered how gracious he was visiting his establishment. I particularly remember how fond he was of obtaining a vintage hearse that he had been eyeing for years. He was a storyteller, much like Ms. Jane.

Ms. Jane spoke of and recognized the importance of the vote and would never think of not voting during elections. After making clear that was understood, she quickly pivoted and got that out of the way. Like family reunion meet and greets, she wanted me to know who she was and what she has accomplished.

At 93 years of age, enthusiastically, she told us she recently competed with other senior citizens around McTyre Park and won the Spelling Bee Contest. The contest was sponsored by Memorial Heath Care Systems. She enjoyed the recognition and was awarded gifts and prizes for winning. So proud of her accomplishment and conserving her steps, she asked one of the volunteers with me to enter her home and guided her where to retrieve photos that captured those moments. She brandished the photographs showing her winnings on that day. Although the event occurred in September, while telegraphing the competition and seeing the over whelming joy she still felt, I wanted to capture the moment and tell her story. Securing permission to do so, we ended like reunions do, posing for pictures and vying to keep in contact in the future.

Voting seemingly was a common practice for the two elderly women featured.  Even though their precinct was low performing, they exercised their franchise and understood the value in voting. These encounters, however brief, were enlightening and proved refreshing for all of us. For the residents, it was embracing strangers in their neighborhoods as neighbors. And for us as volunteers, it made our efforts– and the work we do — worthwhile.

The door hanging project is a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) service provided to the community in partnership with Broward County League of Women Voters, Florida Voter Mobilization Project, Devine 9 and the Urban League of Broward County.

About Carma Henry 25108 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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