A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were once again rhapsodizing about our incredible lives here in the Algarve.
I reflected that the only thing missing in my perfect storybook life was a dog. We are both dog fanatics, but we have agreed that right now it just doesn’t make sense to get a dog. We are away for two months every year; not fair to the pampered pooch we will someday bring to our little paradise.
Well, put it out in the universe here, and … a week later, a new stray cat showed up. She waltzed right into the kitchen, announced her need for food, and jumped in my lap on day two. She follows me around the house, comes when I call her, begs for food, wants constant pets and snores like, well, a dog. We should have named her CatDog, but Glenn named her Greystoke. Best of all, she sleeps and does the nasty business outside. Thank you, universe!
A week after Greystoke showed up, we met a couple of fabulous new neighbors. Over a wonderful dinner, John talked about his board position with Madrugada, an association here that provides hospice care at home to patients who are terminally ill.
Most of their funding is derived through their four retail stores. Retail stores? My spider sense was tingling. Retail was my life for a very long and sometimes torturous career in the USA. For two decades in the advertising agency industry, I worked with retail chains all over the country. And for the last almost 20 years of my career, I climbed the corporate ladder, finishing as the VP of Marketing and Partnerships for an international developer of luxury shopping malls.
I worked directly with the local teams at these behemoth malls to develop strategies that would make their retailers successful. I was responsible for over 80 far-flung staff, over 60 million dollars in budget and many millions in revenue. I breathed retail and I absolutely loved it.
Seeing my insane ideas come to life like cascading marshmallow drops for thousands of screaming kids at Easter, working with partners like the Broadway show Wicked to tour Glinda’s Bubble and bringing the first ever picture-in-picture movie launch for deaf children with Fox Studios’ Ice Age was like Red Bull in my veins. The travel, the press, the pressure, the expense account … LOL … It was a wild ride.
But then one day on a business trip in Nashville, my head felt like a balloon. My balance was off, and my tongue was numb. The short story – they thought I had an aggressive brain tumor and let me out of the hospital for one day to be driven to an attorney to “get my affairs in order”.
After a few terrifying weeks and an assortment of hateful tests, it turned out that I had a rare, inflamed brain stem, brought on by stress. The doctor ordered me to “change my life immediately”. It wasn’t hard to step away, after thinking you were going to be stepping away from everything permanently. And those steps brought me all the way here, to my beautiful, stress-free life in Portugal.
John mentioned at dinner that Madrugada was very much in need of volunteers at their retail stores. On my first afternoon on the job, Judith, the dynamic lady that runs all of the shops, took me on a tour of the Lagos Home Store. When she discovered I enjoyed organizing and folding, she immediately gave me my new title: The Linen Girl. I work a couple of afternoons a week, folding and hanging and stocking my linen corner.
The dedication of the volunteers is astonishing. Some have been there for years, taking great pride in what they do. We are quite the mixed group – Portuguese, British, American, Dutch, Scottish … One charming Portuguese lady sings as she sweeps the floors. A couple of English gents who are the muscle guys moving the furniture are always a breath of fresh air when they arrive with their new stock and their cheeky attitudes. They have us all laughing. In fact, we laugh a lot. I have been in many retail stores and I have never seen a group with a better attitude, who work any harder. Oh, and did I mention that we don’t get PAID?
I have learned a lot about the organization from my neighbor John Hough. It turns out that he is the President of the board. Since Madrugada’s inception, they have helped 293 patients and their families with end-of-life hospice care. They have nurses and medical equipment of all kinds. They offer counseling to patients and their family members, in addition to hospice care at home. Incredibly, their services are COMPLETELY FREE.
The main administrative office is in Praia de Luz. Their four retail stores are in Lagos, Praia da Luz, Lagoa and Ferreiras. Over 80% of their funding comes from the four retail shops. They care for patients all the way from Aljezur to Lagoa. If you need help with end-of-life care or counseling, go to their website at www.madrugada-portugal.com or call the support center at +351 282 761 375.
How can you help? Come out and be a volunteer! You can work as much or little as you like, the hours you want. Or donate your gently used stuff – clothes, home goods, linens. You can become a member – check out the website for the membership form. It’s only €30 a year! Or, come on out and buy some linen.
Judith enthusiastically endorsed my request for a November Linen Lollapalooza – all linens at the Lagos Home Store are 50% for the entire month! Curtains, pillows, bedding, towels, tablecloths – some very quality merchandise for insanely low prices. And for such a great cause.
I thought the only thing missing in my life was a dog. This country and this area have done so very much for me. Volunteering for Madrugada, I feel like I am giving back a little bit to the community that has literally saved my life.
Glenda Cole is a retired American executive living her storybook life here in the Algarve. She and her boyfriend Glenn have a YouTube channel called The Glenn and Glenda Show where they share tips about their expat life.