Finally, she's mature enough to be a TV host

On a cable TV program aimed at the retired, Sherry Parrish helps people lead more satisfying lives

The Middle Ages

May 20, 2007|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Reporter

Midlife carries some boomers to unexpected places.

Take, for instance, budding TV personality Sherry Parrish. The social worker who directs resident life at Charlestown retirement community recently spent the afternoon taping television voiceovers.

She is host of the pilot for What's Next? -- a program you might also call Senior Makeovers. At the moment, though, she's still chuckling over the conversation she had five months ago with an eager producer.

"I sat there with my head shaking," she says. "I couldn't imagine hosting a TV show. I said `Don't you realize I'm short and fat and 54?'"

Which, as it turned out, was exactly what these folks were looking for -- after Parrish's many other qualifications, of course. They wanted a host to whom their target audience and the makeover candidates could relate.

Now Parrish is part of a pioneering media enterprise: The nation's first television network tailored to viewers ages 55 and older.

Created by retirement community visionary John Erickson, Retirement Living TV is available to 26 million homes across the nation. In Maryland, it is carried by Comcast CN8 and airs from from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The network offers daily shows that explore lifestyle topics, health, fitness, relationships and finances for aging boomers and beyond.

The proposed reality makeover addresses the effort to deliver information through original narrative programming as well as through more standard "talking heads."

The premise: Retirement Living TV's 40-foot-long recreational vehicle roams the country as Parrish meets folks who find retirement less than glamorous and often downright depressing. She connects them to experts on fitness, health, lifestyle and employment who suggest ways to adjust their outlooks and behavior in order to live more satisfying lives.

When her own RV of opportunity pulled up, Parrish climbed aboard. For the past 13 years, she has helped ensure that Charlestown's staff and programs invigorate and nourish the 2,400 people who live at the 110-acre site in Catonsville. Trained in many aspects of geriatric social work, Parrish appeared last year on two of Retirement Living TV's daily shows to discuss continuing care communities, caregiver stress, social isolation, menopause and sexuality of older Americans.

The new show, she says, is "our version of a reality documentary."

"We challenge a person to step up to the plate. Then my job is to bring him or her together with the experts, motivate and move the process along."

The show's first makeover is for a 64-year-old mechanic from Chicago who retired six years ago when his company closed abruptly. Although he was left with ample money, he had not anticipated how isolated he would become while his wife continued to work.

"He had the wind knocked out of him emotionally," Parrish says. "His wife told him he needed to find a job for his own psychological well-being, but he just couldn't. It was the third time he had lost a job, through no fault of his own, and he lacked the courage to get back up. And when your self-confidence goes down that far, gravity wins."

Retreating to his couch, he lost a lot of self-esteem and gained a lot of weight.

Then he agreed to seek advice from the RLTV makeover team. A fitness expert drew up a diet and exercise program, while a vocational counselor suggested that he polish off his resume, consider part-time work and look into volunteer positions.

He began warming to the notion of helping others, Parrish says.

"It turned him on like a light. Over the weeks, he became gregarious, warm, open and loving. ... He was no longer someone left behind by his company. He was almost a philanthropist. Giving back to his community has energized him and his family."

The show has also reinvigorated its host. She hopes it will teach her 15-year-old daughter, Shannon, what pleasant surprises can arrive later in life.

"This [job] couldn't have happened when I was 30 or 40," she says. "It had to happen when I was ripe enough to have that combination of life experience and self-confidence, along with a willingness to share my life. It's like the perfect storm for me."

She's also received a "small stipend" and a generous dose of boomer wisdom.

"My husband, John, is very concerned that I don't give up my day job," Parrish says. "Not that I would ever do that! I realize that it's the rest of my job here that makes me so good for the show."

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