Aldersbridge Communities Launches Elder Wish Granting Program

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I.  (September 13, 2018): It was November 1942 when 18 year-old Emmalou Handford married her neighborhood sweetheart, Otto Kirchmeier, while he was on leave as Army gunnery chief stationed in Panama.  There was no time for a long engagement and the young couple’s family gathered quickly to see them wed.

On their second wedding anniversary, Otto, who was on duty thousands of miles away, arranged for his sister to purchase an engagement ring for his wife.  He chose her birthstone, an amethyst with a unique emerald cut. She wore it every day for the next 58 years until he died.

The ring accompanied many happy decades together with Otto: throughout their careers (she a Methodist minister, chaplain, newspaper bureau chief, and author and he a land surveyor), raising seven children, running a two-acre gentleman’s farm on Long Island, and putting the kids through college.

It wasn’t soon after Otto passed away in 2002 that her ring setting became loose and the stone chipped when it fell onto a glass counter. In a selfless act, she sold the setting and cashed in all of her jewelry so her eldest son, John, a helicopter pilot chaplain and his wife, a nurse, could spend five years ministering in Kenya. “I was determined to find the money for them to go,” recalls Emmalou without regret.

In Spring of 2018, Emmalou relocated to Aldersbridge Communities’ Winslow Gardens independent living in East Providence.  She liked the proximity to one of her daughters who lives in the Ocean State, and enjoyed the opportunity to provide chaplain services to her fellow residents.

One day, she bought a rose cut lavender costume jewelry ring for $8 that was for sale in the lobby. “I tried to recreate my engagement ring as best I could on my limited budget,” she notes, “but it didn’t come close to what my husband had given me. Of course, his love was attached to it.”

Last month, Emmalou was asked by Aldersbridge Communities CEO Richard Gamache to participate in its new ElderVentures program, a wish-granting initiative for its residents funded entirely on donations.  “I knew right away that my wish was to get the ring made,” she said, without hesitation.

MRT Jewelers in East Providence worked with Emmalou to recreate the ring. She selected the stone size and verbalized every detail of its unique setting from memory.  At an informal ceremony held recently in the Winslow Gardens library, she was presented with a 6-carat, high-quality emerald cut amethyst set in a four-prong setting on a 14K yellow gold band.  

“It’s a dream come true for me,” an ebullient Emmalou stated, after an initial moment of speechlessness.  “I never saw this happening and thought it’d be selfish of me. Until this opportunity, I never thought of satisfying my own need, and didn’t even realize how much I had a need.  It’s absolutely amazing,” she said with emotion as she admired her newly adorned left finger. “I’m never going to stop looking at it. I keep seeing Otto in it.”

A nonprofit organization, Aldersbridge Communities raised $13,000 at its annual gala in June to help fund the launch of ElderVentures. Aldersbridge has since granted Emmalou’s and another resident’s wish to attend a rock concert at Fenway Park with his children.  A third wish is in the works to send a resident to Upstate New York to visit her brother and sister-in-law.

“Imagine having the power to make someone’s dream come true,” Mr. Gamache states.  “ElderVentures enables us to do just that. It’s life-changing, heartwarming and, at the same time, extremely rewarding on many levels.  It is our hope to grant as many wishes as we can, as often as we can.”

At this time, the ElderVentures program is only open to residents who live at one of the four Aldersbridge Communities throughout Rhode Island:  Linn Health & Rehabilitation (East Providence), Winslow Gardens assisted and independent living (East Providence), Arbor Hill assisted living (Providence), and St. Germain assisted living (Woonsocket).  Residents or their families can make wishes known to the administrators of these communities, for consideration by a Steering Committee appointed to grant approvals.

“This program makes us unique in bringing it to our residents, as our focus is for each of them to live with purpose,” explains Elise Strom, director of development, public affairs and philanthropy at Aldersbridge Communities.  “Their wish can be something to benefit where they live, to experience something of a lifetime, or fulfill a need they’ve been longing for. Together with the generosity of our donors, we can make their dreams possible.”

For more information on Aldersbridge Communities’ ElderVentures program, contact Director of Development Elise Strom at (401) 438-4456  ext. 136 or