No one would fault the Rev. Dick Giffen for slowing down as he closes in on 80. Instead, he volunteers to help other seniors who don't have as much mobility as he does.
Since retiring from the clergy in the Northeast and moving to the Lowcountry in 1995, Giffen has worked nonstop to provide elderly people with transportation, financial resources and a voice in civic affairs. He does whatever is needed to keep seniors connected to their communities and enjoying a vital sense of independence.
"He just never stops," said Curtis Loftis, director of the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging. "He is one of those guys that sees the big picture and the small picture."
Giffen, 77, lives in Mount Pleasant with his wife of 55 years, Ginny. The couple have three daughters and three granddaughters.
A retired Presbyterian minister, Giffen rose to the position of executive presbyter in New Jersey, the equivalent of a bishop in other denominations. He said his travels and work building and running churches taught him valuable lessons about how to help others by forming coalitions, tapping grant resources and soliciting volunteers.
The elderly community is often overlooked as a pool for volunteers, Giffen said. "A lot of focus on older adults tends to be sympathy or pity, when actually older adults have resources to provide the community that no one else can provide. Rather than being a drag on a community they can provide resources, especially time," he said.
Giffen was recognized recently for his efforts to meet the aging population's health needs and enable seniors to lead rich lives. Earlier this month, he was presented with the 2007 Outstanding Older South Carolinian Award, the most prestigious honor given by the state Office on Aging.
Giffen's commanding presence is balanced by a disarming sense of humor. He often wields both to achieve results on behalf of seniors, friends say.
He has used his experience and talents to work with government agencies and nonprofit organizations to bring needed funding to programs in the Charleston area to help seniors age successfully. The many programs he's helped create include the Shepherd's Center of East Cooper; Grocery GoFor; Senior Wheels; and the Independent Transportation Network, a national affiliate he helped bring to the Lowcountry.
Terry Brown, vice president of senior services for the Trident United Way, said Giffen always shows up to help wearing his trademark bow tie. "He is tremendously active and concerned about senior issues. He is just incredibly engaged," Brown said.
Giffen also has been instrumental in lining up support to build a senior center for East Cooper residents. Giffen worked tirelessly with officials in Mount Pleasant and at East Cooper Regional Medical Center to help organize a partnership, Brown said. "Dick was the person pushing all of them to do this," he said.
Giffen's work over the past decade has provided thousands of seniors, many of them homebound, with rides to the grocery store and transportation for other errands. The program's volunteers do more than just drive; they arrive smiling and engage seniors in friendly conversation.
Giffen and his wife regularly take the wheel themselves and carry vans full of grateful residents to important medical appointments and other obligations.
He also served as a representative in the Silver Haired Legislature, presiding over its Trident Caucus and offering moral guidance to members as the group's chaplain.
Volunteers such as Giffen play a crucial role in serving the state's elderly population, which is expected to continue growing as the state's 1.3 million baby boomers reach retirement, Loftis said. "Dick is one of the premier people. He's the cream of the cream," he said.