Having a sense of purpose in life may help people live longer, according to a study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Plenty of other studies have pointed to the same finding – that a sense of purpose is one of the most important indicators that a person may live a long life.

With that in mind, we decided to get some inspiration from a few members of our My Choice Family Care Member Advisory Committee.

Each of them discussed their personal passions, which ranged from paleontology to cooking to art to volunteering.

Barry Kress, Vice Chairman of the committee, found his purpose in life – science – at the age of 21/2. That’s how old he was when he first went to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History with his father.

“I could spell Tyrannosaurus rex before I could spell my own first name. My dad was a food chemist. He made science fun for me. To this day, I try to make science fun for the visitors at the Milwaukee Public Museum,” said Barry, who volunteers there each week.

He’s also excited about planning to give presentations on science at the St. Anne Center for Intergenerational Care, which he attends Monday through Friday. “I’ll be teaching people about the history of our planet,” Barry said. “Paleontology and microbiology have been a great obsession for me for over 55 years. When you look at a fossil, you’re looking at a piece of the world’s history.”

Kiki Traner is a skilled artist who mixes words with pictures on canvas. “I started eight years ago,” she said. “There was a picture up on the wall and I saw it, and I wanted to make it with a poem. I had the poem, but I didn’t have the picture, so I had to make my own version of it. And I haven’t stopped yet.”

When creating her artworks, Kiki says, “The words come before the pictures. I use all kinds of tools.” She’s even incorporated the tire tread from her wheelchair in one piece, appropriately called “Ode to My Wheelchair.”

“I had the idea and I knew what I wanted to do,” she explained. Because she uses a wheelchair, Kiki sometimes needs assistance. “I have an art therapist from the Milwaukee Center for Independence that comes every Monday. The things that I can’t do, she does for me.”

Kiki’s favorite works are advocacy pieces meant to help people understand individuals with disabilities. The message, she says, is this: “Even with disabilities, I have dreams just like you. The struggles are real, too. I try to tell people just because we are different doesn’t mean we don’t want to same things you do.”

Katie Needham, Chairperson of the committee, said: ““My purpose is to be the best person I can: to strive every day to be more kind, to be at peace and create peace. My daily goal is to make life better for my friends and create community through both actions and words. To that end, I plan activities and events for the people where I live. This benefits us by decreasing isolation and boredom, which are both precursors to unhappiness. In my daily conversations I seek to promote understanding, cooperation and joy. My personal joke-a-day campaign lifts some spirits, including mine. As I promote goodwill, I feel more positive and at peace with my own existence.”

Katie also believes in regular goal-setting. “It’s very important every day to have a goal. If you don’t have a reason to get up, it’s hard to get up. For people with disabilities, you have to make goals day by day,” she said.

“I have a friend, Pam, and we eat together every day because she can’t cook. This is a good reason for me to eat right, and she helps me do things I can’t do. We’re a good team. We always know that we’re going to have dinner together every day. We do menus together, we do the shopping list together.”

Nealy Rothe said she starts her day with reading meditation books and doing some writing and reflections in the morning. “It starts my day so that I know God is with me and I have a purpose. The purpose I have is to be an individual that’s able to do things without anyone questioning or criticizing me. I like being independent,” she said.

Among Nealy’s talents is the gift of signing. “When I was in grade school, my parents taught me how to sign. That’s how I learned how to talk. I continue to use it with my roommate, who is deaf in both ears. I’m also learning more sign language.”

Nealy also enjoys volunteering at Tricklebee Café in the Sherman Park area of Milwaukee. “I do a variety of things. I waitress, I do dishes, I help cook, I help take orders, I help clean,” she said.

“I also do a lot of advocacy work. I go to Madison for Disability Advocacy Day, and I represent the Milwaukee chapter of People First. We talk before legislators about the issues we have, like transportation, Family Care, what kind of programs we have that we’re involved in and what’s our passion in life. For me, I want to have my own company where I can sell my knitting and be an administrative assistant.”

To work on her skills, Nealy is attending a program through Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin.

King Hall said: “My passion in life is that I want to open up a restaurant one day and have my own business. I watch different cooking shows on TV, and that’s what inspires me to learn new recipes. I like how different food tastes and I want to share that with family. I also want to be able to share it with other people.”

King is attending Milwaukee Area Technical College and is taking culinary courses to work toward his dream.

“You just have to put your mind to it and focus and make new ideas and stay on track. I enjoy the creativity of cooking. One day I want to open a restaurant here in Milwaukee. I’d serve Spanish rice or enchiladas, Hispanic food,” he said.

King also is a greeter at a Home Depot on Milwaukee’s South Side. His work there and his goal to become a chef was featured last fall in a segment of Positively Milwaukee, which aired on WTMJ-TV.

Our passion at My Choice is helping people realize their own passions. You can be a part of that by joining a Make My Choice Better Group. To do so, call Mary Clare Carlson, our Self Advocacy Specialist, at 414-639-9381 or email her at MaryClare.Carlson@mychoicefamilycare.org. You also can contact your Care Manager to see where else we can use your time and talents. Remember, it takes each of us to make a difference for all of us.