Real People Empty Nesting:

Laurine Valenti: Goddess of Carpe Diem

By Robin Bonner

Laurine Valenti joined the ranks of empty nesters when her daughters grew up and moved out, and since then she’s made the most of her free time. From volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and her church’s various charities, to serving as working crew on the 1883 wooden barkentine Gazela, to pursuing her passion for sailing with the Nockamixon Sail Club (PA), Laurine lets no grass grow under her feet. She gives new meaning to the notion carpe diem.

EN: Laurine, what fuels your fire? Where do you get ideas for your escapades?

LV: Keeping active for good reasons fuels my fire! And the ideas have just “shown up.” I’ve always enjoyed helping others and so joined the Upper Dublin Lutheran Church (UDLC). They “practice what they preach” by offering many opportunities to help people who are less fortunate. I have participated in Chosen 300, feeding the homeless in Philadelphia, and with One House At A Time (OHAAT), helping to provide gently used furniture and beds to needy families. (OHAAT was started by UDLC about 12 years ago and is now multidenominational.)

I have also helped to work on three houses in North Hills through Habitat for Humanity (see below). At our church’s annual flea market to support local charities each year, I lend a hand. I’m on the Social Ministries and Global Missions committees of my church, and this spring, I helped to arrange and participate in sightseeing and social events for three visitors from Tanzania.

Laurine with friend Tony Sousa aboard the Gazela.
I crochet prayer shawls to be blessed and given to those who would like them, and I just spent a week on an Appalachian Service Project to West Virginia, with 27 adults and young adults, where we helped remove and replace a roof in 100+ degree temperatures.

My other passion is sailing. I’m a member of the Nockamixon Sail Club, where I participate in social and sailing activities at the lake, and sail on the Chesapeake Bay several weekends each summer with the cruising fleet. I volunteer for and am a member of the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. I wanted to sail tall ships when I first saw them during the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. When OP Sail 2000 came around, I took my family to Philadelphia and Annapolis to see and tour more tall ships. While volunteering at Lake Nockamixon to help sailors pull their boats out of the water at the end of the season, I met Tony Sousa and his wife, Jan. They introduced me to the tall ship Gazela (Tony and Jan both work on the ship, and Jan also cooks for the crew), and I knew I was hooked! We are an all-volunteer organization with the goal of preserving Gazela and the tugboat Jupiter. I usually work in the office one day a week, participate at events, and have even scraped and painted. I just had my first sail on Gazela, to New Bedford (MA), July 24 to August 1. It was like Peter Pan and Fantasyland all rolled into one! Sailing that majestic ship was a “dream come true.”

EN: How old are your daughters and what are they up to now?

LV: Lisa is 27. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she received an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and psychology, then worked for several years at the VA Hospital in Pittsburgh, doing behavioral health research in the mental health field. She volunteered at Contact Pittsburgh, a 24-hour crisis hot line, and was a Cat Cuddler and Dog Walker for the Animal Rescue League. Currently, Lisa has returned to school at Arcadia University to study to become a physician assistant. She would eventually like to work in the field of cardiology or neurology.

Jessica is 23. Her passion while in high school was volunteering at Special Equestrians (SE), a non-profit therapeutic riding program for children and adults with disabilities. Jessica and I helped at SE in Warrington, where we worked with clients and horses, and helped train other volunteers. In 2005, she was nominated for and received the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association’s Volunteer of the Year Award (chosen from among NJ, NY, DE, MD, and PA volunteers) for helping out more than 1,000 hours that year. She attended Lock Haven University for several years and is now working in the Lock Haven area, still helping others!

EN: When your girls were teenagers, did you look forward to an empty nest? Are you happy with the situation, or do you miss them? (Or both?)

LV: I became a single mom when my girls were 4 and 7, and I always thought it was important to “be there” for them. I attended all their sports events, took personal days to chaperone class trips, was troop camper for both of their Girl Scout troops, and took them to parks, the shore, camping, and so on. I sometimes wished I had more time to myself, mostly during “grade reporting” time, as I was a high school math and computer teacher. When Lisa graduated from high school and Jessica and I were the only ones at home, things didn’t change much because of our involvement with Special Equestrians. I think service projects like that help young adults to appreciate their own lives. When you see a client struggling—and you have your own troubles—you realize that your situation is not so bad after all!

I guess what I am saying is that I enjoyed my time with family, but now I like having the chance to make my own decisions about how I spend my time. I do miss them, though, if several days have passed and I haven’t heard from them!

EN: Do you miss your career?

LV: As a retired high school math and computer teacher, I can say that I enjoyed the teaching part and miss the student/teacher interaction. But I do not miss the meetings and the political pressures created by standardized testing that affect all math and English teachers.

EN: Tell us more about your work with Habitat for Humanity: How did you get involved?

LV: Our church had a sign-up for Habitat for Humanity. I didn’t hear anything after adding my name to the list, so I searched their website for information and called and emailed their volunteer coordinator. I told her that I grew up in Upper Dublin [PA] and was interested in working on the house in nearby North Hills because I wanted to “give back” to the community in which I grew up. I went to the site and told the man in charge that I didn’t want to just bring water.

If that was all they needed me for, then I had better ways to spend my time. So, he handed me a Sawzall and asked me to cut off the bottom of a doorjamb that had to be taken out because it was warped.

That was just the beginning. By afternoon, I was putting up ceiling beams for the second floor—with a 12-foot ladder, level, hammer, and nail gun. I continued to work on three houses; they’re building at least one more in the coming months, and I hope to be involved.

EN: When and where did you learn to sail and how did it come to be a prominent activity in your life?

LV: No one in my family sailed. I was riding my motorcycle at Peace Valley Park (in Bucks County, PA) one day and stopped for water. One of my students saw me and invited me to take a ride on his brother’s Hobie Cat. My husband and I bought one the following Thursday and sailed through the fall. The first time we were out, though—in October—we went over. It was quite cold! We survived, but then we went out and bought wet suits.

After that, we sailed at Lake Nockamixon, the shore, and Hatteras (NC) for 8 years. In 1987, I was in a car accident and was told my back injury would never allow me to sail again. After chiropractic care, however, my back improved, and I started sailing at Lake Nockamixon again about 4 years ago. With friend and fellow sailor Diane Paxton’s encouragement, I joined the club and got back into sailing.

EN: In what other ways are you enjoying your empty nesting years? What advice do you have for those about to embark on that “voyage”?

LV: I have always been an optimist. I retired in September 2006, and in October my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was glad I wasn’t working and could help her. In the fall of 2007, our 94-year-old friend ended up in the hospital, and my mom and I helped to provide home health care for her until the spring of 2008. Again, I was glad I was available to help.

I have always believed that where there’s a will, there’s a way. Keep a positive attitude. Search for constructive things to do. Stay active, and find ways to do things on your “Bucket List.” Helping others is a plus. It will help you better appreciate your own life. Pay it forward—it is always better to give than to receive! AND KEEP SMILING! As my grandfather told me, “It makes people wonder what you’ve been up to.”

Robin Bonner is editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see
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