12/20/2013 10:06 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

A Connection Louder Than Words

When people in my generation want to communicate with each other, we rarely do it in person. We text, email, and use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to share stories, photos and videos of our lives. Technology has enabled us to be more connected and completely in-tune with what's happening in other people's lives. However, sometimes we forget that language, communication and connectivity comes in many forms outside of tweets, likes, views and posts.

The older generations remind us that there's more to connectivity than life on a screen, and that there are many ways of communicating and building relationships. Before the digital era, people communicated through letters, postcards and telephone calls. Communication wasn't constant like it is today, which made each point of contact more anticipated, special and meaningful.

Almost five and a half years ago, I started Wish of a Lifetime (WOL), a non-profit with the mission of helping seniors realize their lifelong dreams. Through our partnership with Brookdale, a leading provider of senior living solutions and our founding corporate sponsor, we have extended our mission of enriching the lives of seniors by granting wishes across the country.

Together, we recently granted the Wish of 92-year-old Belle Veal. As an African American nurse in the early 1950s, Belle faced much adversity in trying to care for her patients. Regardless of the resistance she encountered, she did her best to take care of all of her patients. She achieved such success largely due to the self-esteem she gained from working with one of her patients, Mr. Burgess, and his family.

As a token of appreciation for the care she provided, Mr. Burgess' wife, Jetta, sent Belle a beautiful handkerchief with a long, heartfelt letter for Christmas. So began the tradition -- every year Belle cared for Mr. Burgess, and even after he passed, Jetta sent a handkerchief and letter. When Jetta passed away, her daughter Helen picked up the tradition and continued to send Belle a handkerchief and letter each Christmas. Belle saved every letter and handkerchief she received for more than 30 years. Belle's Wish to display the gifts of gratitude she received from the Burgess family will be fulfilled as we help her design the display that showcases these mementos.

Each handkerchief and letter Belle received solidified her connection to the Burgess family, which gave her the courage and strength to continue her work as a nurse.

In the coming weeks, we'll also be granting the Wish of 84-year-old Jean Cummings to learn sign language in memory of her late daughter and to communicate with her daughter and great grandson, who are also learning to sign. Jean is the spokesperson for her floor in her Brookdale community, and she advocates for those who have trouble communicating. Jean's Wish to learn to sign provides her with an alternate form of communication and connectivity to her family.

She will be receiving eight weeks of lessons from an instructor who will teach her and her close friends how to communicate in sign language. Jean feels she will accomplish a lifelong goal that will afford her the opportunity to be more connected to her daughter and great grandson.

We are proud to have also recently granted a Wish to a senior who wanted to develop stronger communication and connectivity with those closest to her. The late Iva Ryan didn't let age get in her way. At 102, her Wish of a Lifetime was to learn Spanish as her second language to communicate with her granddaughters and their mothers. Both of her sons married Spanish women, and her Wish was to speak with them in Spanish to feel connected and united with her extended family. We arranged for Iva to take lessons at Schreiner University so she could feel like she was a part of their world. Iva said, "This is the most honorable thing that's ever happened to me. Learning Spanish was the one desire of my life. You don't know how wonderful it was!"

Belle, Jean, Iva and many of the seniors we grant Wishes to remind us of the importance of communication in building lasting relationships. They help us to remember that if we take the time to reach out and connect to others, we just might have richer and more meaningful lives that we can share with those we care about most.

To submit a wish application or to help grant a wish through a donation, visit