The secrets to growing (older)

Road to Wellness

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Perhaps the presence of a 77-year-old nurse demonstrates what must be a scientific principle of the common sense variety — the secret to aging with grace is to stay active and useful.

Vi Selzer, director of Mental Health and Addiction Services at the Health Resource Center of Cincinnati, received the Florence Nightingale Award for excellence in client care from the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing in April. The award was for her work serving mentally ill homeless people, mostly in the Over-the-Rhine area.

Her down-to-earth approach is impressive. Her empathy is humbling. But what's perhaps most remarkable is that she continues to do this work, more than 40 hours a week, as she prepares for her 78th birthday.

For many, financial limitations seem to outstrip the possibility of pursuing one's dream job, but Vi has found it in counseling homeless men and women who suffer from disorders ranging from alcoholism to schizophrenia to loneliness.

Health Resource Center CEO Connie Wilson says, "I'm not exactly sure what we'll do when Vi goes."

It isn't that there aren't other nurses who could work at the Center — it's that Vi carries the spirit of the place in each day as she approaches the three-room clinic generally clad in two-tone trendy sneakers and color-coordinated trappings.

The Nightingale Award is noted for its prestige, with more than 400 nominees annually. As much as she is a nurse, a professional counselor and a teacher to rising nurses who seek to work with under-served populations, Vi is also a family member of the Health Resource Center. Perhaps in this society so often fragmented by suburban family homes far off from retirement communities, she also maintains her vitality by being implanted in a cross-generational community — one that values her insight, laughs at her jokes and waits anxiously at lunch to hear about last night's exploits.

"Sometimes I forget that I'm old," Vi says.

She says the award was a huge honor, but it sits, simply and unobtrusively, on a file cabinet overlooking her desk. She has clients to see, battles to fight for universal health care coverage and Graeter's coffee ice cream waiting for her at lunch.


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