We were recently invited to Danbury Commons, a senior housing community in Danbury CT, where we had the honor of meeting one of its residents, Blanca Sanz. Before we spoke with her, Blanca was quite busy volunteering at her building’s “Outreach for Rent Rebate” program, which was being run by the Danbury Senior Center. The “Outreach for Rent Rebate” is just one of the many assistance programs that the Department of Elderly Services provides to help local seniors navigate the application process for several social service programs. Blanca is fluent in Spanish and she is always on hand when the Center offers these programs to help translate for those who need assistance. After helping well over 50 people at the event, she was able to sit down and chat with us about her passion for helping others and being an active member in her community.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My mother came to the United States in the 1930s and settled in New York. She decided to come this country because of the great opportunities here and the desire to make a better life for herself and our family. After living and working in New York for several years, I moved to Danbury in 2007. I have been in Connecticut for about 11 years and I am very happy here. I have found an amazing and very supportive community. We look out for one another and we truly care for one another. We are like one big extended family.
How did you get involved in assisting with programs like the Rent Rebate program?
Well, I help the staff at the Danbury Senior Center whenever they need someone to assist with translation. There is a large Spanish-speaking population in Danbury and not everyone has a strong understanding of English. So, the Center asks me to come help translate when they offer events like these that assist residents with filling out tax forms, rebate forms, Medicare, Medicaid, and other social service applications. The Center even calls me if they have someone at their offices that can’t speak English and they need me to talk to them in Spanish. I always make myself available to help if someone needs a translation. It is important that everyone has the opportunity to fill out his or her forms correctly and get the help that he or she needs.
You are very passionate about volunteering at these outreach programs. Where does this passion and dedication come from?
For years, my mother struggled with getting Medicaid. This was primarily because she didn’t understand the complex paperwork involved with applying for this program. When she came to the U.S., she did not know English and her language skills did not progress that much over the years. So, she had trouble applying for programs. If you don’t fill out the forms correctly and provide all of the necessary information, you cannot get the services that you need. My mother really needed someone to help guide her through filling out these forms and translate the process into Spanish. If she had the benefit of services like the Danbury Senior Center’s Outreach Program back then, my mother would have been able to receive the services that she desperately needed.
Her struggle with applications and qualifying for services, and her frustration with the language barrier is what motivated me to help others in this way. I volunteer my time at the Center to make sure that everyone can get the extra help they need to qualify for and receive the services that they require. In fact, when the Center holds this type of program, I go door to door in the building where I live and I let people know that it is happening. Also, all of my neighbors know that I am available if they need any translation assistance. People are always knocking on my door and asking me questions, which I love. I am always willing to help and I am always available!
What other programs are you involved with at the Center?
I love to go to the Center and spend time with my friends as well as the great people who work there. I really like going to the parties they hold and any event that involves dancing. Also, I love to sing and I try to sing at all of the parties they have at the Center. I actually sang professionally in the Dominican Republic before I moved to New York (you can look me up!). So any chance I get to use my voice and sing for others, I jump at it.
It sounds like you are quite the busy lady! What do you do in your free time?
I love watching movies and spending time with my family. My two sons are in Danbury and one actually lives with me. I love spending time with my grandchildren and have lots of fun with them. Also, I enjoy cooking and going to eat at the great restaurants in Danbury.
How do you stay so active and fit?
I feel like I am constantly on the go (which is good for a young 78 year old like me!). I try to keep myself busy and I walk everywhere. For the past couple of years, I have suffered with a few health problems and I have issues with my eyesight. But, I was determined to not let that get me down. It is easy to fall into a funk when you get sick, but I was determined to stay positive and keep living my life. I receive a lot of my energy from helping others, so I constantly volunteer and offer my translation services whenever I am needed.
What advice do you have for other senior citizens?
Get up and move! Don’t be idle and stay home all day. Find something that you are passionate about and go do it. For me, volunteering and helping others has become the great passion in my life. I love when I can translate for people to help with important benefits, or simply help them understand things better in their daily lives. It is important that we stay active members of our communities and use our skills to help others.
“Everyone knows to come and knock on my door. I am always available to help and I never say no.”
Does Blanca inspire you?
Consider volunteering and becoming involved at a Senior Center in your area. Check out our local Senior Center pages to see what is going on at a Center near you and our Community Events calendar to see how you can get involved. You can also learn about Volunteer opportunities in our Resource Center.