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Cruise brings 'joy in a ripple effect' for Traverse City older adults

Passengers on the Joy Cruise held by Comfort Keepers wave from the upper deck of The Discovery Cruise ship before heading onto the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay. They were out on Wednesday, June 26, the National Day of Joy.
Travis Snyder
Traverse City Record-Eagle
Passengers on the Joy Cruise wave from the upper deck of The Discovery Cruise ship before heading onto the waters of West Grand Traverse Bay. They were out on Wednesday, June 26, the National Day of Joy.

Wednesday was the National Day of Joy.

And, for the sixth year, Comfort Keepers In-Home Care of Traverse City celebrated by holding an event to bring joy to their clients.

This year’s theme: Need joy? Just add water. Wednesday morning the Discovery Cruise Ship left the dock with about 75 people on board, Comfort Keepers clients and their guests.

Russ and his wife, Leslie Knopp, own Comfort Keepers in Traverse City. He said organizing the cruise this year was about taking advantage of the mental health benefits to being on the water.

“We take care of seniors for all kinds of reasons, like their health, but being able to bring a bit of joy? That has a positive health impact, too,” he said.

“When we do these events, I like to think of it as joy in a ripple effect,” Russ said. People anticipate the event, tell the story afterward and look forward to the one next year too.

The “joyful” benefits of being around water aren’t just theory. According to the Michigan Blues Perspectives, water in natural and man-made forms can make people feel calmer, increase well-being and boost creativity.

Anything from taking a bath to going for a boat ride can lower heart rate and anxiety levels.

Dave Charlton, 85, said he felt calmer being out on the water during the Joy Cruise. He has lived in northern Michigan for 20 years, and takes advantage of being near nature in hiking groups, pickle ball clubs and with his golfing buddies.

“You’re surrounded by nature, that’s very healthy,” Charlton said. “It’s so serene and peaceful, and I feel connected to this place called Traverse City.”

He’s a Comfort Keepers client, who appreciates when a caregiver helps with the housework.

“Comfort Keepers provided for my wife after her stroke, before she joined the ancestors,” Charlton said. “61 years we were together, she left us about a year ago.”

Charlton brought his grandson Dodge, 19, on the cruise with him.

“It’s been good to spend the day with him,” Dodge said. “The service was great, the food was good, and I always love spending time with Gramps.”

The clients on the cruise are not only grandparents to their traditional families, they also form relationships with caregivers such as Donna Ballaro and care coordinators like Kelsey Baker.

Baker said some of her clients have been like grandparents to her, making this more than just a job.

“I just love seniors. They have a special place in my heart after caring for my own grandmothers,” she said. “A lot of clients have lived on the water for years, but because of mobility or other issues, they can’t get to the water.

“That’s why it’s good to be able to do this.”

Ballaro said being a caregiver is a two-way street: She’s providing what seniors need on a daily basis, but they share experiences and care about her, too.

“I feel like I’ve been placed in people’s lives for a reason,” Ballaro said. “Every life has an impact on mine and I’d like to have a positive impact on everyone else’s.

“It’s about making every day the best it can be, and I noticed my client today had a big smile on. It’s a good day.”

Both of her parents were retired U.S. Air Force veterans when Ballaro was growing up in southeastern Connecticut. She moved to the Traverse City area 23 years ago, and was pleasantly surprised to find a community of retired veterans like her parents.

“I just felt really drawn to that connection, trying to give people a good memory,” she said. “You know you’re in the right job when the time flies.”

Lauren Rice is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
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