Aging Unbound: Jo Leary
April 25, 2024

The desire to help others was instilled in Jo Leary at a young age. 

When she was a child, Leary would go out with her mother to visit some of the older adults in her neighborhood. They’d check on these friends (some of whom were younger than her mother) to make sure they had everything they needed and were doing fine. 

“It’s what you did,” Leary said. “People looked out for other people more so than they do today.” 

Jo Leary

And at 79, the Billerica resident, inspired by her mother who volunteered until she was 90, continues to look after others. In 2010, she started the Sunshine Gals, a volunteer organization focused on economic and social outreach, with four of her friends, and she leads the group. 

Every year, the Administration for Community Living leads the national celebration of older Americans, and its theme of Aging Unbound continues to offer an opportunity to explore a wide range of aging experiences and celebrate the joy of independence and fulfillment as we age. 

Leary has been busy since retiring from a career in banking in 1999. She was volunteering for the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church delivering food to Lowell when she realized there was a need for a similar service in Billerica. She heard of a grandmother who was living in a car with her two grandchildren and another person living in a tent and wanted to make a change. 

“I thought why not do something in this town,” Leary said. “Why don’t we do something here in Billerica.” 

So she and four friends sought donations, and they used those funds to start the Sunshine Gals. That same year, they gathered enough money to host a Christmas dinner at the Billerica Elks Lodge, and more than 100 people attended. 

That motivated the Sunshine Gals to do more. The group has grown to seven members and expanded its services. It hosts a meal at the First Parish Church on the fourth Saturday of every month and a bi-monthly luncheon at the Billerica Council on Aging.  

The members buy the food, do all the cooking, serving, and cleaning up. 

Leary said they also deliver meals to older adults who can’t make it to the church. They regularly deliver about 25 meals to residents of the Talbot School Apartments and drops off a handful more to housebound people. 

“Those Saturdays can be a long day,” Leary said. “But I love it.” 

More than 10 years ago, the Sunshine Gals partnered with the Billerica Boys & Girls Club and began providing pasta dinners twice weekly to the members (and often their parents and staff).  The program was incredibly popular with the children and was eventually taken over by the School Department, which was able to increase the meals to five nights a week.   

Leary is very proud of this particular program they initiated and fondly recalls her time with the Boys & Girls Club community. 

The group has also partnered with the Department of Children and Families in Chelmsford to provide items such as clothes for those in need, and participates in that town’s Halloween Trunk or Treat. 

To many of the people who attend the meals, the social aspect of the event is just as important as the food. Leary sees a lot of the same people every month and the comradery is contagious. 

“I’ve seen friendships develop there over the meals,” Leary said. “The people who come in, it’s like family.” 

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