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People with Purpose: Debbie Haspel

In 2009, Debbie Haspel moved to Sarasota to retire and play golf.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 15, 2015
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In 2009, Debbie Haspel moved to Sarasota to retire and play golf. Since then, she’s become involved in a variety of causes and serves on the board of three organizations — but she hasn’t golfed in a year.

We came to Sarasota from the northern suburbs of Chicago. It seemed like the perfect place to retire — to golf and relax, a permanent vacation. It turned out to be so much more than that. I would have never known that at this stage in my life I would be beginning a whole new educational chapter.

My initial involvement came through friends who were already involved and then from there, things just sort of snowballed. The Jewish Housing Council was the organization I became most heavily involved in at that time.

I just really love the seniors. They are a very vibrant and interesting group of people who live at Kobernick Anchin House. Probably my favorite memory of really all of the things I’ve done in town was about four years ago. We hosted the Senior Prom at Kobernick Anchin. We partnered with The Key Club at Riverview High School and hosted this intergenerational program where it literally was a prom.

It was heartwarming to see the young people interacting with the seniors. At the end of the night we crowned a king and queen from the resident population and prince and princess from the high school. The last dance was the king dancing with the princess and the queen dancing with the prince — the king was 102 years old and he had the biggest smile on his face. One of the residents who was 101 years old at the time was teaching all of the high school girls to do the shimmy. It was wonderful.

For the last three years, I’ve co-chaired the Alzheimer’s Association “Reason to Hope” luncheon. My father has dementia, and the Alzheimer’s Association has really helped my mother and I deal with that. My way of thanking them is to help raise awareness of the efforts in our community.

I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met while being involved — it’s amazing. I’ve also learned so much about the arts and what goes into putting on a ballet, what goes into putting on a theater production. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about social needs —that the face of the homeless is not necessarily what we all perceive. You learn something every day here. I think that’s what I love the most about my involvement. I get so much more than I give.

The memory that has moved me the most would have to have been at the Jewish Housing Council. We had an activity night for the residents where we showed Margo Coville’s family documentary, Journey to Justice. It was a very powerful evening because many of the residents at KA are Holocaust survivors. When Margo was doing the Q&A, one of the residents raised her hand and said she had been in Bergen Belson and in the front row, a man raised his hand and said he was on the troop that liberated Bergen Belson. It was incredible that they should be living under the same roof so many decades later. That was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had while volunteering.

It’s important for me to be involved because (my husband) Larry and I have been very fortunate in our lives. We have six children who are healthy and three of whom have had near death experiences but are still here with us. Larry himself was in a near fatal car accident and has had cancer and survived both. I count myself blessed that I still have all of my loved ones with me. When you are that fortunate, you feel like you need to give back.  

Larry has always said to our kids, from since I can remember, a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson,“The gift is for the giver,” and I truly believe that. The feeling you get from knowing you’ve done something good for others, that feeling knowing you have benefited others in some way, there’s nothing like that.