Office for the Aging


Sullivan & Tompkins County Honorees

Sullivan County Honorees

Marie Zalesky, Sullivan County's oldest RSVP volunteer, is 105 years old and was born in Callicoon, NY. She has been volunteering for 40 years, serving thousands of hours in her community.

Marie Zalesky  Pic

Marie's early service included visiting patients in local hospitals and nursing homes and visiting homebound seniors. Years later, she added needlework, telephone reassurance, medical transportation, meals on wheels delivery, tutoring school children, assiting at the local library, and tax preparation. For the last 30 years of her 40 years of volunteering, she has been at the local branch of the Catskill Regional Medical Center hospital, where she brings patients water, newspapers or anything they may need. In the last few years she has faced challenges, but her positive attitude keeps her moving forward. She still volunteers and is an active member of her community-touching hundreds of lives for a lady who doesn't travel too far from the place where she was born in 1907!

"I worked all my life, work, work, work. Work keeps me going. I'm not going to stop because of my age!" she said.

"Caring for people is a secret to long life . . . helping others," she added.

Tompkins County Honorees

Ilma Levine and Debbie Levin both have educational backgrounds in science. They began a lifelong friendship in the 1960's while volunteering with children in Ithaca.

Ilma Levine and Debbie Levin  Pic

Debbie and Ilma share a mutual interest in providing hands-on science and experiential learning opportunities for underserved children. They volunteered in an elementary school for 15 years, initially working out of their own station wagons, and eventually moving to a room which hosted science activities. They gathered community support and founded Ithaca's Sciencenter in 1983, whose mission it is to inspire excitement for science through programs that engage, educate, and empower. They coordinated thousands of volunteers to build exhibits, construct the museum building and conduct field trips. They emphasized an enduring service to low-income and minority children. Volunteering just shy of 50 years, Debbie and Ilma have collectively volunteered well over 200,000 hours in support of the youth of our community.

They've been volunteering for nearly 50 years, for several hours per day, several days per week. Why did they start volunteering? Debbie says, "Not money! The satisfaction of doing something I liked to do and was useful to others." And Ilma says, "To show that science is everywhere and can be enjoyable and fun."

When asked what they find to be most rewarding about volunteering, Ilma said, "Knowing that children liked what we were doing and that it helped them in some way."

Debbie said, "Seeing children enjoying and learning at the Sciencenter."

Sue Ford is a lifelong resident of Tompkins County, where she raised a family including 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Sue worked at New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) for 34 years before retiring in 2002.

Sue Ford  Pic

When Sue Ford's mother could no longer drive, Sue began driving her mom to Senior Group meetings. Soon Sue herself became an active member and Travel Coordinator of three Senior Groups in Caroline, Lansing and Groton. As Travel Coordinator, Sue researches events, and arranges for transportation, tickets and meals. She attends to trip details and provides travel games to help the groups pass the time pleasurably. At Senior Group meetings, she often shares a funny joke or a story, and the seniors just love her. Sue served as President of the Lansing Senior Group in 2008 and 2009. In addition, Sue helps with the Lansing United Methodist Church's semi-annual rummage sale, assists with Habitat for Humanity's Women Build, and she is the Secretary/Treasurer of the Snyder Hill Cemetery Association.

Sue began volunteering full-time, to help her community, when she retired in 2002. "It was never about getting something in return, it was always about giving. I enjoy doing for others and helping to make their lives a little better," she said.

"The feedback from people is the greatest reward," she said. "A smile or a simple thank you makes my day and makes me feel really good."