The VBH Foundation has provided more than $10 million in financial aid over the last decade to LifeSpire residents who could no longer afford to pay for their care. Throughout the organization’s more than 70 year history, benevolence has been the heart of everything LifeSpire does.
The Virginia Baptist Homes Foundation Influencer Award honors a champion at each community who causes a positive effect on the mission to enhance the lives of their friends and neighbors. Influencers embody the core values of LifeSpire communities through their spirit, their engagement and their generosity.
Like a tree cannot grow without the influence of the sun, the VBH Foundation cannot grow without the support and generosity of its influencers and supporters. Together we are building vibrant places to live where faith, wellness and community flourish.
MEET THE 2021 INFLUENCER AWARD HONOREES
Diane Bittner was born on October 9, 1946, and raised in Pittsburgh. She met her husband Edwin there and they were married in June of 1967. They have a daughter Lisa and a son Mark and four grandchildren. She moved to Virginia in November of 1981 when her husband took a position at Newport News Shipbuilding.
Diane started her college education attending Allegheny County Community College in Pittsburgh and then transferred to Thomas Nelson Community College, then Christopher Newport University (CNU). She completed her Bachelor of Science in information science at CNU after attending night classes for eleven years and working full time while maintaining a home and two children in college.
Among other positions, Diane worked for the City of Newport News for eighteen years rising to the status of project manager supporting the Newport News Commissioner of Revenue and Treasurer Departments for the maintenance and improvement of programs and data platforms for tax programs.
Diane and Ed moved to The Chesapeake in April 2016. Diane said, “The first time Ed and I walked through the front doors of The Chesapeake we felt the warmth and friendliness that emanated from the community. This feeling was never felt at other CCRCs we visited. As we went through the process of learning everything about The Chesapeake, we felt this was where we wanted to be. We were impressed with the Medicare rating The Chesapeake had. This was not found at other facilities. We joined The Chesapeake Club and waited about a year and a half for the apartment we wanted and have been very comfortable in our home ever since.”
Since then, she has jumped into the community, seeking ways to be involved. She served on the Wellness Committee, she helps to organize monthly Wine Club events, and has served on the Resident Council, one year as vice president, one year as president, and is currently on the board as past president. Eager to stay involved at the leadership level, she also serves on the Resident Advisory Committee and shares quarterly LifeSpire updates with her fellow residents. Diane also was active in the Yorktown Courtyard refurbishment project.
Diane finds that her best way of helping others is using her skills and expertise in technology to help people communicate. She is part of a Resident Tech Assistance Group to help residents with computer issues.
During the COVID-19 crisis, her skills were particularly useful to The Chesapeake community. She helped people navigate the isolation and quarantine of the pandemic by using technology to connect with one another and with their loved ones. Diane is quick to give credit to the other Resident Council members – they worked as a team to keep communications open, through using the Touchtown announcements and streaming updates to in-house broadcasting channels. The Council was involved in a phone tree calling residents to see if there was anything they needed. When the vaccine became available, Diane helped to set up and manage the vaccine clinics.
Diane said that she has been influenced by The Chesapeake Executive Director David Loop and Barbara Jackson-Ingram, health services administrator for The Chesapeake. Their leadership through the pandemic showed her how residents can be involved to keep their home safe. Being in her first year as President of Resident Council, this guided her to provide residents with the help they needed.
When asked how she hoped to influence others, she said, “Hopefully being able to communicate with the residents through technology assistance has influenced them to explore what is available widening their world around them. Many residents are encouraged by their families to use email and iPads. We have been here to guide them through any questions they may have while trying to keep connected to family and friends. This not only helps the residents, but it helps me keep abreast on the latest technology changes.”
“A fair, caring, focused and dedicated servant leader among the residents, her quiet approach does not hinder her influence of others, as her deeds and thoughtfulness have earned her the highest respect.” David Loop, Executive Director.
Carole Edwards was born in Staten Island, N.Y. in July of 1938 to parents who were children of immigrants living on the lower East side of Manhattan. How fortunate Carole and her two brothers were to be brought up with the wonderful values of frugality, generosity of spirit, helpfulness and always being quoted the Golden Rule: do unto others as you wish to be done unto you. Learning not so much by preaching but by the example of her parents, Carole, though a very shy child (hard for people who know her now, to understand that) would always compliment and thank anyone who helped her or did something nice. She learned to be a letter writer expressing these positive thoughts but also letting people know if she thought a situation could be handled in a better way. Try to be part of the solution, not the problem, was one of her dad’s philosophies.
Carole, after teaching high school in her alma mater and teaching piano in her own studio for about 30 years, moved to Smith Mountain Lake. Driving the speed boat for her brother’s slalom water skiing, captaining the pontoon, and having fun on the Sea-Doo with their multitude of guests, Carole and her friend Jackie toured the country, visiting 24 retirement communities before deciding on The Glebe in 2000 (5 years before The Glebe opened.) The CCRC contract was a “No-Brainer” and what a glorious day it was when their cottage was ready for Carole, Jackie, their Papillon dogs, and a cat to move in.
Immediately the dogs and cat became regular visitors in assisted living and healthcare as they were pet therapy animals who traveled in a baby stroller to do their visiting. Not to be outdone by the animals, Carole became a charter member of the Executive Committee of the Residents’ Council (from which she recently retired, affording newer residents the opportunity to serve.) As a big fundraiser, (something she said she could never do) Carole encouraged Glebians to contribute toward the purchase of the grand piano, for the saltwater pool, and to purchase memorial bricks for the Gazebo garden which carried out the plans and design of a fellow resident, Don Johnson.
During the challenging period of the bankruptcy, Carole was on the committee to raise resident funds to hire a lawyer, specifically to represent the interests of the residents. And how successful that was! You name the committee and Carole served on it or led it at one time or another. Still very much involved, Carole currently is serving as facilitator of the Prayer Group, (15 years now) working for many years on the golf tournament, Spiritual Life Committee, Resident Advisory Committee, memorials, memoirs, sponsor of the Short Game Golf Tournament, leading sing-along in assisted living (going on 15 years now) and now that COVID-19 precautions have been eased, she once again has restarted visiting in the licensed areas. Water aerobics classes three times a week, weekly “brain” classes, lectures, various entertainment activities make days, weeks and months go by much too fast. Keeping in touch with all independent living residents who move on to different levels of care is very important to Carole as she feels that no one should ever feel forgotten, abandoned or left out. Suggesting visits, phone calls, letters, brief notes, providing companionship and providing updates to fellow residents is very important to her.
A parishioner of the local Roman Catholic Church in which Carole is a lector, she arranges a Catholic Mass to be celebrated several times a year at the Glebe to which all denominations are invited. In this wonderful ecumenical community, spiritual activities are beautifully represented.
“Carole Edwards and Friends,” the longest running piano ensemble group in the country, will be presenting its 49th consecutive annual week of concerts next April. It will mark the 17th year of performances at The Glebe which have grown from one concert to five performances. Started in N.Y. in 1974, this group helps raise money for local charities as it selects a different group each year to which attendees voluntarily contribute. There never has been an admission charge, as these performances have always been a gift to whatever community in which Carole resides.
Carole is a high-spirited influencer to all she meets, through her charitable efforts, through her cheerful presence and committed participation in the community, and through the ever-present smile on her face as she buzzes around the Glebe on her little red scooter. May her influence inspire others to offer their own talents to the Glebe community.
Jane Scott was born in Loudoun County, Va. on March 16, 1938, where she grew up on a dairy farm. She and her younger sister, Rachel, were responsible for chores to help out on the farm, and both sisters were active in their 4-H club at the club, county, state and national level. They met their husbands at State 4-H Short Course in Blacksburg. While Rachel focused on showing Holsteins, Jane followed the home economics path, which led to her love of sewing.
In 1956, Jane represented Virginia as Simplicity’s Dress Review winner, and joined girls from each state at the National 4-H Club Congress in Chicago. The event celebrated each girl’s achievement in personal growth and sewing skill. Jane reflected on those memories so fondly and still has a program from the event in pristine condition.
Jane headed off to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. She was greatly interested in psychology and declared her major in that discipline. At the same time, she recognized that teaching was her passion, and so she loaded her course schedule with math classes to become a math teacher. After graduating, she taught high school math at Handley High in Winchester, Va.
In 1962, Jane married her 4-H sweetheart, David, and continued to teach math at Luray High School. David’s business brought them to Culpeper, where they went on to rear three children—Ed, Susan and Rachel Ann. They were active in the Culpeper Baptist Church and the community. During these years Jane was a homemaker, taught Red Cross swimming lessons, was a 4-H leader and served on the Culpeper County Library Board. Jane started serving as a floor volunteer at Culpeper Hospital. She continues to volunteer as a member of the Culpeper Hospital Auxiliary, assisting the floor nurses for over 40 years. Jane was no stranger to The Culpeper as her mother, Isabel Norman, served as trustee to Virginia Baptist Homes in the early 1970s. Jane moved to The Culpeper in 2016 after David’s passing. She became active within the community, joining bible study, trips, and still volunteering at the hospital.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation for all individuals to wear cloth face coverings. Jane’s immediate concern was for her daughter, Rachel Ann, who lives at the Mary Louise Kelly Home—a community for adults with developmental disabilities provided through Hope Tree Family Services. Upon hearing there was a need for masks at the home, Jane took up her needle and thread and enlisted the help of some friends. In one weekend, 91 masks were complete and delivered. Word got out at The Culpeper about Jane’s sewing masks, and from there, she was asked for masks. The Culpeper team, a member of Culpeper Board of Supervisors and others in the community provided fabric and supplies. Jane shared her talent by providing masks to the Culpeper Senior Center, The Culpeper team—before N-95 requirement—residents and team members of friends and family businesses. At the encouragement of her son, Jane sat down one day to tally up how many masks had been made. An astonishing 750 masks have been distributed.
As this year’s Influencer, Jane is recognized at The Culpeper as a great supporter of the mission, and gives freely her gifts of time, talent and treasure. When asked where Jane draws her influence from, there was no hesitation in her response—faith, family and friends.
When asked what it felt like to be the 2021 Lakewood Influencer, Phyllis Wilson said it was amazing. She feels that outreach is just part of who she is and how she was brought up. It feels natural to help other people, because when Phyllis moved to Lakewood in 2016, she knew that she would eventually need help from others, so she wanted to get a jump on the helping.
Phyllis has macular degeneration, and she knew that her sight would continue to get worse over time. She said that when you lose one of your senses, you have to compensate in some way. Her way is to be prepared and to stay active. Phyllis is a voracious learner, and she quickly learned her way around, reading every sign and knowing every hallway because she knew that after a while, she wouldn’t be able to see her way around. The Lakewood construction threw a wrench in her directional capabilities, but she found her way again.
She found others in the community that had the same challenges and formed a support group. Speakers would come to Lakewood from all over the state to share with the group their experiences and expertise. While the speakers have stopped because of COVID-19, the support still continues.
After finding a home in the Lakewood community, Phyllis especially wanted to make it feel like home to new residents. She would find people struggling in the halls or in the café, looking lost or like they needed help. She invites singles and new folks to join in at the community table for her building, to make sure no one is left out. She felt like it was moving back to college.
Originally from Kingsport, Tenn., Phyllis was born January 31, 1934. She was an only child. Her dad was superintendent of the foundry at Kingsport Press, while her mom also worked for the Press but as a proofreader. Phyllis’ mother proofread the World Book Encyclopedia, volumes A through K.
Growing up, Phyllis said she was the “Denise the Menace” of the neighborhood, the party planner and event organizer, planning games and activities for everyone in her community. But, ever since she was very small, Phyllis wanted to be a nurse. She attended Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va. to get her nursing degree, and then took her first job at Duke because her boyfriend and future husband went to UNC Chapel Hill.
After moving to Richmond, Phyllis worked at St. Mary’s Hospital, then for the Henrico County Health Department, then for Procter & Gamble. For most of her career, however, she was a physical therapy rehabilitation nurse for people with traumatic brain and other injuries. She worked for thirty years with Sheltering Arms in the Richmond area.
Phyllis and her husband had three sons but lost one to cancer when he was just 47. She has two granddaughters and other family that she delights in spending time with.
Influences on her life include her in-laws. Her mother-in-law was one of 20 children, with many nieces and nephews. There was always a family reunion going on. Phyllis says it was amazing for an only child to be part of such a big family.
She continues to be influenced and inspired today by her family and her faith, citing church, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School as important parts of her life. Her compass for living is Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” For someone who is legally blind—she can only see the large “E” on the eye chart at the doctor’s office—Phyllis feels that this Proverbs verse is particularly significant. She doesn’t need to see the path before her because God is directing her feet, her hands, and her heart every day. God has directed her steps all over the world, traveling the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Cuba and God continues to guide her path today at Lakewood.
Phyllis greets everyone she meets at Lakewood with a smile, and even the canine members of the community can expect a treat from her if they happen to meet. She hands out cards to the new residents at Lakewood that said: “Lakewood adds years to your life and life to your years. We are dear hearts and gentle people and the next thing to heaven.” She said helping people in her community keeps me going and wakes me up in the morning. Lakewood is honored and pleased to have Phyllis Wilson be the unofficial welcome wagon for the community, and her ongoing influence is to spread light and love to everyone.
By sponsoring an ad in our online journal, you are supporting our benevolent mission. One hundred percent of your donation will be applied to this year's benevolent need. Last year, we provided almost $1.2 million in benevolent subsidies to 58 residents who, through no fault of their own, exhausted their financial resources. Thank YOU for being a champion, too!