Veterans life insurance

Storytellers Share Stories at UMich Medicine Big Hearted Stories Fundraiser

Big hearts for seniors celebrated its 17th birthday and held its annual fundraiser at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater on Tuesday night. This year’s fundraiser, “Big Hearted Stories: Journeys,” featured a live performance featuring five storytellers, who each shared personal stories around the evening’s theme of “journey.”

Big Hearts for Seniors is a collection of five programs administered by Michigan Medicine – Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, Senior Housing Office, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Silver Club Memory Programs and Turner Senior Wellness Program — support and serve seniors in the community. Since 2006, various Big Hearts for Seniors events have raised more than a total of $500,000.

The emcee and guest speaker for the evening was public health professor Victor Strecher. In his performance titled “Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything,” Strecher shared a story about his high school dance and what he’s learned since.

“I learned that all the people I wanted to be, I don’t want to be anymore,” Strecher said. “And a lot of people who were kind of geeks and nerds and misfits ended up being pretty interesting people that I really like and still do.”

Strecher also stressed the importance of respect between partners and repeated the message he gave to the students of Frankfurt High School Early 2021.

“When you start going through life and you find someone, make sure that person sees that light in your eyes, sees that special thing about you and helps build it and doesn’t try to put it down” , said Stretcher. “Because if they put you down or put you down or make you feel bad, run away.”

Published playwright Marc Holland spoke about a series of events in his life that he accepted or refused to accept in his performance “Arriving at Acceptance”. Through an anecdote about the time he drove his truck into his garage door, Holland explored what acceptance is.

“What I learned is that anger won’t talk about this accident and will challenge you to talk about it,” Holland said. “Acceptance called their landlord’s insurance and was told ‘Sure, we’ll cover that. That’s why you have home insurance. Anger will look at the paint transfers on my open garage door every morning and curse the day, but acceptance took a bunch of rags and toothpaste and wiped all that paint off.

Bill Krieger, veterans program manager for Consumers Energy, also spoke at the fundraiser. As a retired army captain, Krieger oversees the well-being of veterans his company hires as they return to the civilian world. In his performance “Destination Unknown”, Krieger spoke about the mental difficulties he faced after returning from Iraq and the experiences that led him to his current job. Krieger said he believes mental health is an ongoing journey.

“I used to think healing was this journey from A to B, and it really isn’t,” Krieger said. “There is no real destination when it comes to our mental health and personal well-being.”

The fundraiser also featured Mark A. Harris, Merck Pharmaceuticals’ first prostate cancer consultant and a fitness instructor who has contributed to cancer-related work.

Harris’ performance titled “The Bright Side” centered on his story as a prostate cancer patient and the father of a young man with cancer who died. Harris said looking on the bright side and responding “fantastic” when people ask how he’s doing has helped him overcome life’s challenges.

“Sometimes we have to look at each other calmly and honestly, which I did,” Harris said. “‘Mark, when people ask you how you’re doing, you always say ‘fantastic.'”

The final speaker was Breeda Kelly Miller, storyteller, author, playwright and actress.

Miller shared her years-long journey as the carer of her dementia-stricken mother, who is often described as “the long goodbye.” In her performance “Mrs. Kelly’s Journey Home,” Miller explained how her mother taught her to love life through a series of interactions between her, her mother, and other people in their lives.

“My mother Mary Kelly was an ordinary woman with an extraordinary outlook on life,” Miller said. “She was always open to new experiences. I always say she would go to the opening of a donut shop. She just loved life, and she taught me that, even when she was at the end of hers.

Through ticket sales, a silent auction of nearly 200 items, and donations, Big Hearted Stories: Journeys raised a record total $122,000, $3,000 more than the record set in 2021.

Daily staff reporter Tina Yu can be reached at [email protected]