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"I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for people." - Maya Angelou

January 31, 2017

For North Shore Senior Center, an everyday hero can be seen through the actions of our volunteers. More than 500 of them make it possible for us to foster the independence and well-being of nearly 30,000 older adults each year. They invest their time, commitment, passion, friendship, and support to seniors in 23 communities regardless of whether that impact is direct or indirect.

One such hero is Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) counselor and Technology Learning Center volunteer, Marty Small. Marty’s introduction to North Shore Senior Center happened by a chance visit with his wife, when she stopped by to pick up a course catalog.

“I hadn’t spent any time at a senior center before then,” Marty shared. “I had just retired in 2013 at the age of 79 and was looking for something to do.” Marty reached out to the Director of Volunteers and was quick to sign up as a volunteer coach in the Technology Learning Center.

He was able to assist seniors with computer questions during open lab hours on Fridays, and eventually began teaching classroom sessions for iPhone and iPad users. A few months later, Marty received a newsletter from the City of Highland Park with a call for volunteers to work with its own SHIP program. “I thought of this program as a way to help my neighbors in Lake County, in addition to the volunteer work I was already doing at the Center,” he said.

The combination of technology, healthcare and volunteerism seemed like a perfect fit for Marty. Once his SHIP training classes started, Marty realized that he might be able to offer his Medicare counseling services to both Highland Park and North Shore Senior Center. He asked for and received authorization to do just that.

“SHIP is a free statewide health insurance counseling service for Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers,” Marty explained. Launched in 1988 within the Illinois Department of Insurance, SHIP currently has 74 offices throughout Cook County. Each office is volunteer-based and supported by local sponsoring organizations.

One thing Marty is proud to bring to his role as a SHIP counselor is his own life experience. “I’ve been on Medicare for quite a while, so I can identify with clients and give them the benefit of my own experience and even from my own mistakes. After all, you can’t be right all the time.”

If Marty doesn’t know an answer for a client, he has complete faith in the Center’s social workers to find one. “The people here know what they’re talking about. Financial needs, health needs, you name it. The social workers at North Shore Senior Center are much more qualified than myself to help individuals with complicated cases. I recognize that I can only take someone so far.”

Though Marty is extremely proud of the people he helps, he refuses to be acknowledged as an “everyday hero.” “My son-in-law, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, he’s an everyday hero. For me, it’s someone who has compassion and understanding for the situation you’re in. They don’t talk over your head, but can help you take away the important aspects of a situation.”

But for some clients, Marty is the exact hero they need. Marty helped a postal worker who was told by a health provider that a certain device would be covered. The postal worker was then later billed. Marty personally wrote a letter to the insurance company on his behalf and the charges ended up being reversed. Another client with memory issues, learned she was being charged premium prices for her prescriptions. Marty was able to contact sources and get her a special enrollment period, since open enrollment had passed since then.

“Healthcare has been in my blood one way or another my whole life,” Marty stated with pride. “As a SHIP counselor, I feel that I’m helping people and giving back to the community, and that’s more important to me than anything else.”