Sally Smith Makes Seniors Smile

Back in the 1950s, some women didn’t attend college right after high school, and while Middlesex alum Sally Smith liked to learn, she began college much later in life.

Sally Smith headshotOriginally from East Hampton, Sally grew up in Meriden and graduated from Meriden High School in 1958. Her father initially discouraged her from going to college or joining the Navy like her brothers. Instead, she started her own family. But years later, Sally was divorced and, because her children were still small, she had to sell her house and go on state aid.

In order to get off Medicaid, Sally became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) through the Vinal Tech program in Middletown in 1973.

While working as an LPN in a nursing home, Sally met a patient in her eighties who was a talented painter and always wanted to exhibit in her own art show. Sally simply went ahead and arranged an art exhibit and reception for her in Cheshire, where the patient even sold two paintings. “She was beside herself with joy!” recalled Sally.

By the 1980s, Sally’s kids were grown and she explored the idea of attending college. She first attended Southern Connecticut State University, but that campus experience was not for her. Instead she decided to audit an algebra class at Middlesex Community College. She then enrolled in more classes and worked with a tutor to improve her grades. For a while, she lived near the former MxCC Meriden Center and also took classes there. She even reconnected with old acquaintance in one of her classes, Betty Berger. They knew each other previously when their kids were in dance class together.

After attending Middlesex part-time into the 1990s, Sally earned her associate degree in human services. “I had a very good experience at Middlesex. I enjoyed being there, and the teachers were great,” she reiterated.

While still working as a nurse, Sally met an elderly male patient of Irish descent, who said he never had been to Ireland. She talked with his daughter to see if this was even physically possible for him to travel. She agreed, so Sally again proceeded to see how to arrange this for him. She spoke with other senior wish agencies that told Sally she would have to do all the work. If that was the case, why not start her own foundation with the mission of fulfilling the dreams of senior adults?

In 2007, Sally and her friend Betty launched a nonprofit organization called Seniors Have Dreams, Too. The group’s purpose is “to make a difference in the lives of the elderly and create opportunities for seniors with limited resources to experience a lifelong dream.” The nationwide program is offered to seniors 65 years of age or older, living below the poverty level, and physically and mentally able to experience a wish. Receiving no grant money, the group operates on individual donations and holds an annual arts and crafts fundraiser.

Recently, the organization granted several wishes—a 78-year-old woman with cancer living in Las Vegas went to a concert for the first time; a Connecticut woman’s dream was to visit the casino again with her friends; a woman in her eighties received piano lessons and recorded a CD; a former airline hostess rode in a helicopter—all made possible through the work of Sally’s organization.

“No matter how old you are, you should always have something to look forward to. None of your memories should be old,” she said, who now lives in Wallingford.

Sally still takes her nursing job very seriously. “ I love my job working in nursing homes. This is where I belong. I love working with the elderly and kids with disabilities. I’m getting things for nothing, and so I have to give back,” said Sally emphatically.

What is Sally’s dream? “To complete a bachelor’s degree before turning 90 years old,” she said. “But now my job is to make people smile.”

2024 update: Sally retired the nonprofit in 2022.

October 2018
Written by Thea Moritz