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She may be home in Arizona now, but Darlene Grieger might as well still be back at the orphanage in San Carlos. Even now, months later, when she looks at pictures from her volunteering experience there, her eyes get watery and she has to laugh.
"There are so many memories," she recalled. "Did I do enough or is there still something else I can do?"
As part of her 80th birthday activities, Grieger spent 12 weeks in Costa Rica on a volunteer expedition organized by Cross-Cultural Solutions. The organization, founded by Steve Rosenthal after an eye-opening trip around the world, helps thousands of volunteers experience another culture by working side-by-side with local people and learning about their challenges.
Call it "voluntourism" if you must, but don't call it a vacation. In addition to working with the local Women's Empowerment Group, Grieger assisted English teachers at the Teachers Conference with their pronunciation, and helped out at both the Senior Day Care Center and the Children's Day Care Center.
She also joined with other volunteer on weekend excursions and attended several schools for Spanish lessons and cultural immersion studies.
About the only thing she didn't do, she said, was the zip-lining. "And that was on purpose!"
Special among her memories is Daniel, a sweet-natured boy brought in with his sister by the local Red Cross with signs of physical abuse. After being sent to his room for arguing with another child, Grieger sat with him until they were both crying and hugging.
"He looked up at my tears and I could tell in his eyes that I was probably one of the few people in his life that cried for him," she said.
Like a lot of today's active older adults, the idea of "milestones" for Grieger has less to do with birthdays and more to do with new experiences. Even though she has had a "very full life" filled with family, a successful career and a marriage that lasted 51 years, Grieger sees turning 80 this year as just another highlight in her life - and definitely not the last.
In fact, Grieger says another trip with Cross-Cultural Solutions is already in the offing.
"I am still looking ahead to tomorrow and next week and I know full well there is something else out there for me," she said. "I am looking forward to it!"
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