Charlene BigelowPhoto by Paul Neevel

Charlene Bigelow

“I enjoy learning about people’s lives and their history,” says Charlene Bigelow, who has put in 17 years as a volunteer long-term care ombudsman in Eugene-area facilities. “I found out about it in the AARP magazine when my parents were aging. I thought it might be useful and it appealed to me.” Certified ombudsman volunteers are independent citizen advocates who listen to and address the concerns of residents in long-term care facilities. Since her initial 48-hour certification course, Bigelow has worked at nursing homes, adult foster homes and assisted living facilities. Her current assignment is Waterford Grand, a riverbank retirement community offering assisted living and memory care. “I am an advocate,” she says. “I make sure that their rights are upheld and that their concerns are investigated and resolved.” She introduces herself at resident council meetings, knocks on doors to explain the program and mentors newly certified ombudsmen. A longtime certified master gardener, she is on the Oregon State University Extension Service’s adaptive gardening committee, developing techniques and tools for gardeners with physical limitations. “I took extra training in memory care,” says Bigelow, who facilitates caregiver support groups for the Alzheimer’s Association and helps in planning for its Oct. 13 fundraiser, the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. She also mentors recently released inmates for Sponsors, Inc. “It keeps me busy,” says Bigelow, winner of a few volunteer-of-the-year awards. “I’m probably out doing something five days out of seven.” She began her volunteer career as the mother of four in Phoenix, Arizona, her hometown, where she spent 14 years as a homeroom mom at her kids’ school. Her husband, Doug Bigelow, is an Oregon native whose family once owned Belknap Hot Springs Resort. When he retired in 1997, the couple moved to Oregon, toured the state with a travel trailer and settled in Eugene.