The following article appeared in Vancouver, WA's Senior Messenger. The author is a human dynamo and obviously a very good writer. Much thanks to Leslee and the Senior Messenger for including my story in this wonderful article. Click here to see the article on the City of Vancouver website.

Boomers practice 60’s idealism

by Leslee Jaquette

Many of today’s boomers are children of the 1960’s. They grappled with social ferment as deep and diverse as integration and the Vietnam War. They vowed to never settle for the status quo, and sought new, idealistic strategies to deal with pressing social issues.

In the Vancouver/Portland area many boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, continue to practice the idealism of youth. Individuals such as Tom Ohling, who owns a thriving business called “Nutrition Magician,” discovered the “magic” of giving through meaningful work and volunteerism.

Says Ohling, a former volunteer coordinator for the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington in Vancouver, “Working in the community showed me opportunities on how to better realize who I am.”

Although their journeys are different, Ohling and several other local boomers, who continue to fulfill the challenge of the 1960’s, all say the same thing, “It feels good to do meaningful work!”

From rock to reaching out

Altruism or the unselfish regard for the benefit of others, was the last thing on Tom Ohling's agenda in the 1960’s and 1970's. This young hippie-entrepreneur helped create the Portland underground music scene when he opened a record store and head shop called Black & White Records. A decade later Ohling ran the area's first rock and roll nightclub, Sacks Front Avenue


So how did Ohling go from a rock and roll impresario to the Nutrition Magician? After lots of different jobs, a failed marriage and too much drugs and alcohol, Ohling attended chef school because, “I liked being around food.” Several years later with life still on a bit of a downhill slide, Ohling accepted a part-time caterer position at the Burnside Downtown Chapel Loaves & Fishes.

Far from finding the experience uncool, Ohling discovered that interaction with the elderly patrons brought him answers to some of the questions of youth. At age 40 Ohling observed an atmosphere of service, rather that profit, stripped away the indifference or distrust around him.

“I began to see the people around me…the volunteers who willingly gave of their time and patrons who appreciated the help they received,” recalls Ohling, “They taught me how to be respectful of life and humanity. They taught me how to make a contribution out of everything I do.”

Since then, Ohling has served the community in many ways including working on the Advisory Board for the Clark County Skills Center Culinary Arts Program, and as a volunteer for The Magic of Healthy Choices six-part television show for the Vancouver School District broadcast on the Vancouver educational channel.

In addition, he has served as Community Resource Director for Loaves & Fishes and on the Advisory Board for The Salvation Army Greenhouse (homeless youth program), both of Portland. Ohling has also served on the Advisory Board for the World Affairs Council of Oregon and the Board of Directors of the Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon.

Currently, he continues to help as a volunteer for Portland Impact and is a member of Toastmasters.

What he offers others these days through his work as a nutrition expert is the message of his stage persona, the Nutrition Magician. For the past 14 years, Ohling has dished out the message of wellness and nutrition and the magic of healthy choices to audiences ranging from school groups and seniors to corporate executives. Often delivered in a volunteer setting, his message is relevant to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, “It’s how to make lifestyle changes.”

Yes, finding purpose has not always been an easy path, but one thing Ohling says he knows these days, “It is my belief that we discover the best about ourselves by what we have to offer others.”

Service through SHIBA

Sandi Osborn of Vancouver has served her community most of her 63 years. As a young wife and mother studying to be a nurse, Osborn’s education was sidelined when her mother needed care as the result of a stroke.

Although derailed by life circumstances, the naturally resilient Osborn accepted the situation because, “I’ve always had an affinity for elderly people, and as my life has taken different directions, I try to find was to help people.”

Instead of nursing, Osborn worked for Providence Health Systems (PHS) for 30 years. As a faith-based entity, Osborn notes, she was encouraged to participate in all sorts of volunteerism including serving meals to homeless.

Recently retired, Osborn utilizes her vast skill set and positive attitude as a volunteer with Statewide Health Insurance Benefit Advisors (SHIBA) under the aegis of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). For more than a year she has worked three hours a week at Memorial Hospital in Vancouver, consulting with seniors on mostly Medicare and prescription benefit questions.

“People are totally confused, so we help unravel the insurance benefits by giving them non-biased advice about different options,” explains Osborn, who as a volunteer receives annual seminars and monthly training from the State Office of Commissions as well as frequent email information updates.

“It gives me instant gratification to see the relief, hope, even joy in peoples’ eyes they are so happy to get help,” observes Osborn. “It’s pretty darn rewarding. I'm so pumped by this volunteer work, it's such a perfect fit and so worthwhile!”

Restoring communities to health

Eric Gilman’s commitment to promote healthy communities does not appear to be an offshoot of the 1960's. Instead, the 57-year-old Vancouver man’s lifetime of service as an educator, negotiator and mediator for people with community issues in conflict relates to two millenniums of Christian tradition that calls to him to live his faith.

“My wife, Suzanne, and I live life through our commitment as Christians,” says Gilman. “God has a special place for the poor and oppressed and we have directed our decisions and work with those people.”

After Eric Gilman taught elementary school for 15 years, he volunteered for another 15 years at the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). An organization of Mennonite groups and Brethren in Christ Church, they volunteered in what could be described as third world countries in North America. With only their expenses paid by the committee, Eric Gilman worked in a series of assignments that dealt with marginalized people.

While working for MCC in Port Hardy, British Columbia, Canada, with a native band, Gilman first became interested in the mediation process. Later, when living in Blaine, Wash., and working in Langley, B.C., in Victim Offender Mediation, he began developing an understanding of the principles and philosophy of restorative justice.

“The restorative part is that as a society we need to have the conviction that there can be change in individuals and that we need to give them the chance to grow,” explains Gilman, who currently serves as the Restorative Justice Coordinator Clark for Clark County Juvenile Court. “Our goal is to create safe, healthy communities. We need the victims to have the opportunity to be healthy.”

Now, after eight years working for the county, Gilman observes that he does a lot of teaching and training to help bring a different way of working and thinking about the holistic method and practices guided by the restorative justice principles.

These principles emphasize a practice where offenders are called to higher levels of accountability to victims. They are called to focus on the harms, those who have been harmed and the responsibility and obligation of the offenders to be accountable to make amends as determined by victims and the community to the extent possible.

Gilman says he feels very deeply about the importance of the concept of restorative justice because it is the right thing to do, “When you do work that meshes with your values, if it has meaning and purpose, it reduces conflict in your life.”(For further information about restorative justice, call 397-2201 ext. 4500)

Taking responsibility and helping others

At age 59, boomer Felix “Cas” Casanova of Vancouver is delighted with his life, especially with his decision as a 19-year-old to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. This action changed the course of the young Filipino's life, allowing him to earn U.S. citizenship and to pursue an enriching career.

During his 23-years of service, Casanova was stationed all over the country and met his wife and RSVP/SHIBA Helpline Manager Bobbi Casanova in Hawaii. Through the ensuing years he was also able to sponsor many relatives through the U.S. immigration process to citizenship.

After retiring from the Coast Guard in 1987, the Casanovas settled in Vancouver. He took classes at Clark College and earned several associate degrees with an emphasis on art and computers. Casanova even spent a brief time working in the Merchant Marine; but after a serious homesickness bout, decided to retire for good.

But, of course, that didn’t work. “In 1996 my wife suggested I help at the International Festival as a volunteer at the Seafarer Center,” says Casanova, who explains that the center helps sailors on foreign ships with a myriad of issues from shopping to sending money home. “After I had volunteered there for eight months they hired me on as part-time staff. I love it and I volunteer additional hours when needed.”

Bobbi also keeps her cheerful husband hopping with whatever else needs doing. For example, he recently picked up and delivered home some children who needed transportation to Child Spree, a shopping trip for needy kids in preparation for school.

Why is his work and volunteerism important? For one thing, Casanova’s birth culture taught him to take responsibility and help others out. “It always feels good deep within every time I get to help someone else,” says Casanova. “It makes me feel great to know I did something good today, I made someone happy!”

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Loved by audiences

“Thanks so much for being a speaker at conference. I learned more from your class than all of the rest. ”

— Wilma Hyde, OSFSA Conference

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Honored for commitment to quality education

American Culinary Federation President's Citation to Tom Ohling for education

from The American Culinary Federation

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“Your professionalism, high energy, preparedness and content knowledge made it easy for the group to relate their experiences to your information and motivate change.”

– Scott A. Milam Manager, Clark County District NW Natural

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A part of your team

ACF Good Guy honor to Tom Ohling nutrition educator

The ACF Chef & The Child Foundation Good Guy Award

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Recognized in the community

Firestone 100 national honor to Tom Ohling for service to others

Firestone 100 National Community Service Recognition

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Recognized for excellent childhood education

Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon honors Tom Ohling for childhood education programs

from Chefs de Cuisine Society of Oregon

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