Tireless volunteer is 97 years old and still going strong

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By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Apostle Paul noted that those who waste their time in idleness or in a non-productive manner are easily led into sin, but when he said, “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (2 Thes 3:11), he was not talking about 97-year-old Fall River native Yvette Mancini.  

“I’m a person who doesn’t want to be idle,” said Mancini.

While working and raising a family, Mancini said she dabbled in some volunteer work, even in Florida, where she and her husband lived for 20 years. It was when her husband suffered a massive stroke and landed in Hospice care that Mancini began to embrace her calling; “After he was gone, they were asking for volunteers for Hospice and I called them,” said Mancini, who initially was told that perhaps being newly-widowed would make being a Hospice volunteer emotionally difficult and she was discouraged from volunteering, but Mancini immediately answered, “I can cope with it very well and I want to help.” 

For the next six years, Mancini not only worked alongside Hospice volunteers, she began to reach out to her parish, the community of St. Paul’s Parish in Leesburg, Fla., and formed a club, Catholics Without Partners, that helped those widowed find support with fellow Catholics. Soon she branched out and began running tours for the club, working with a travel agency in Florida to take trips, eventually offering to organize trips for members of the entire parish.

She also added volunteering for the parish’s bereavement ministry, calling families who had suffered a loss and helping them choose prayers, music and planning a collation in the church, if the family wanted it; “I would make all the arrangements,” said Mancini.

Eleven years ago, with the encouragement of one of her sons, she returned to Fall River and took up residence at Borden Place East; “My whole family is in Fall River; we have five generations in the Fall River area,” said Mancini, who has two sons, four grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren. “My son said you’re getting along in years and if you got sick, I couldn’t go to help you, so why don’t you come back?” 

Upon her return to Fall River, Mancini said her son was worried “that because I was so involved in everything [in Florida] that I would be bored when I got here, but just the opposite happened.”

Being only a block from the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, Mancini quickly established herself as a greeter during the 10 o’clock Mass. She also became involved at her residence, where she continues to run an exercise class for the residents (even doing a brief stint teaching hula dancing for a small group of women), is a member of the Borden East Tenants Council and is a board member of the Council on Aging in Fall River.

She is also treasurer of St. Mary’s Seniors Tour group, meeting once a month to plan tours and take trips. She became a lector at St. Mary’s until the step leading to the lectern became a little tricky for her to navigate; “I was getting a little leery. Father [Paul] Bernier used to hold me when I went down the steps, but it got to be a little dangerous for me, so I stopped being a lector, but I’m still a greeter,” she said, adding as a fun fact that Father Bernier is her cousin.

Mancini fondly recalls her trip to the Holy Land in 2006, putting her front and center to see the late St. Pope John Paul II ride by in his popemobile; “What a thrill. I stood up in my chair and took a picture of him,” she said. “I was never as involved with the Church as I am now. I think that my feelings about Christ have increased because of all the work that I do. I went to church, took Communion, did everything a Catholic did, but I didn’t feel as deeply about my religion as I do now.”

It was her role as a board member and member of the planning and services committee of Bristol Elder Services in Fall River that drew nationwide attention to Mancini. Bristol Elder Services had nominated Mancini for an award given by Home Instead Senior Care, a global home care provider that presents an annual award recognizing older Americans at the state and national level who positively affect his or her community through volunteering 15 or more hours each month.

During a fund-raising concert that raised $13,000 for the Bristol Elder Services’ emergency fund, Mancini discovered a secret that her family already knew — she was the winner. As she sat with her family, Mancini listened as Nancy Munson, CEO of Bristol Elder Services, began to talk about the winner of the Home Instead Senior Care network’s Salute to Senior Service award, listing off a long list of volunteer works that the winner had been doing, and suddenly it dawned on Mancini who Munson was talking about.

“When she started saying all those things, I was sitting between my son and his wife and I realized, that’s me! They’re talking about me!” said Mancini, whose son and wife admitted they had known for a few days. 

Then Mancini was given her due on April 7 with a big celebration that included being given the key to the city of Fall River by mayor Will Flanagan and a declaration by the mayor that April 7 is “Yvette Mancini Day.” 

“I lead a very, very full life,” said Mancini.

Some of Mancini’s work helps not just individuals, but the group itself. The exercise class she teaches at the Shepherd’s Center in Fall River, a network of community-based organizations and congregations whose common mission is to empower older adults to be of service to their peers, helps raise funds for the center; “The 94 hours I put in each year helps them get benefits when they ask for grants,” said Mancini.

Mancini has been a cancer survivor for the past 20 years after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and has participated in the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life — four years in Florida and for the past 11 while living in Fall River; “I’m always the oldest so sometimes I’m the one who releases the doves or cuts the ribbon,” she said. 

Her participation in the Ms. Senior Sweetheart Pageant of America — “Well, that is my priority,” joked Mancini — has seen her be a contestant and run the pageant as an administrator’s assistant to the president, though she has reduced her duties to being a consultant after training someone to run the pageant last year. “Now I do everything on the phone,” said Mancini.

Her own family has taken up volunteering, said Mancini. Her son and his wife travel to Honduras every year with a group from Westport, and her son does double-duty by taking an additional trip to take an inventory of what needs to be done during the group’s annual trip, often staying for weeks to help do repair work at a Honduran school.

“They are very much involved in charity work,” said Mancini. “All my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are all social workers. They’re all giving back to the public.”

Even with all the flurry of attention from the media after her award was given, Mancini said her life hasn’t change much — though she joked that politicians now want her to appear alongside them — and she keeps herself fit and active by going three-times a week to water aerobic classes at the YMCA.

“They all say you’re amazing. You are my role model,” said Mancini, who said she tries to remain humble. “All I say is  thank you because I don’t want to sound like I’m showing off. I try to show that I’m proud of what I’m doing but all I ever say is thank you. I try not to brag about it, and it’s only because of my age. I’m sure there are other people who do what I do but probably not at my age. I don’t do it alone because what I do, I could never do alone. All these good things that I do, I have help.”

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts