Here is one guy who won’t take things sitting down.
In the few times that Tito Lorete Alcalá took his 83-year-old parents to the mall, he observed how eager they were to step out of their comfort zone and see new places. But within minutes of strolling in the mall, the elderly couple would ask to be seated, a simple request that was not always possible in the often-crowded shopping areas where space is a premium.
Occasionally they’d get lucky and find some seats. But just as quickly, the seniors would ask to be taken home instead, as the chairs are not comfortable enough and hurt their frail bones.
It was then that Alcalá realized that seats meant for the elderly hardly exist in public places. Sure, there are modular chairs in these areas but they are often occupied by a horde of texting and chattering youth, housewives loaded with shopping bags, or bored husbands waiting for their wives and children to get errands done. Worse, one may have to deal with dozing drivers. Most often too, the seats available are straight-backed chairs too rigid to be comfortable.
Alcalá realized he had two choices: Keep his old folks home where they could lounge in comfort, or produce comfortable chairs in public places himself.
Well, why not? he thought. After all, he had just retired after 25 years in the advertising and design business as managing director of The Artistshop Company, Inc., an advertising design agency he founded in 1984 with two other UST Advertising Arts majors with a mere P3,000 capitalization. The business had been good to him and it was time to give back.
It is by design that Alcalá has decided to move on. As early as 25 years back, he gave himself a realistic time frame during which he would achieve what he was meant to. Whatever he may have failed to achieve shall never be, he told himself, so another year or 25 years’ extension wouldn’t matter.
And so SILYA was launched-Alcalá’s personal advocacy to make sure that the elderly didn’t have to stand for their right to have their own place in the public sphere. At their age, they had certainly earned the right to wage this crusade while comfortably sitting down.
SILYA stands for Sa Iyo Lolo at Lola, Yantok aming Alay, and has Alcalá donating in his individual capacity comfortable rocking chairs in public places frequented by the elderly.
Envisioned to be a nationwide rocking chair donation program, Alcalá said the chairs would be distributed around the country, with priority given to pre-departure areas in airport terminals as well as the waiting areas in restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and humongous malls “where the elderly need to rest frequently as they try to get from point A to point B.”
Although homes for the aged don’t qualify for the donations (“because comfortable rocking chairs should be part of the services they’re offering”), Alcalá said that commercial public places including churches are eligible recipients of the rocking chairs.
The chairs are Alcalá’s personal donations “with no strings attached,” his wife Cynthia stressed.
“There’s no ROI (return of investment) involved. It’s his way of paying back to society, especially the elderly.”
She added: “Tito is financing each chair and all related expenses. Though well-meaning friends and institutions have volunteered to help, he has politely refused, saying that it will taint his advocacy if he takes someone’s money just to achieve his dream. In Tito’s own words, he said doing that would be really selfish and an embarrassment, considering that he regards this (advocacy) as his calling.”
If there is one motive that you could fault Alcalá with, it is his desire to be recognized as having pushed or inspired a legislation that would provide public seating for the elderly, his wife admitted. “In a nutshell, he wants his SILYA program to be remembered as having awakened in every one the awareness about the need to care for the elderly. He refers to it as paying forward.”
So far, several rocking chairs have been donated in the four months since the program was started, Cynthia said, with more chairs in the pipeline because fabrication problems have resulted in delays. A total of 2,700 donated chairs are being targeted to mark the 27th founding of Artistshop, she added.
Although he has identified some places where the donated chairs would go, Alcalá found to his dismay that the lack of competent artisans and woodworkers has resulted in delivery delays. “Building up inventory is actually my biggest concern,” he said. He had to source his chairs from Bicol, Cavite, Negros Occidental and Mindanao, he added.
This lack of suppliers has led Alcalá to a secondary advocacy: That of providing livelihood and business opportunities to local artisans who specialize in making rocking chairs. This was no simple task, however, for he needed to go around the country. It took all of two years for Alcalá to establish the right mix of specs and design with safety and comfort as priorities for his rocking chair, from the handful of furniture makers he personally approved of and work with.
Another challenge, surprisingly, is sitting down with establishment owners and decision makers who are probably suspicious of such donations since they come totally gratis, with no counterpart donation or expense from them.
“Dealing with technocrats and the red tape that go with the donations is actually what’s wearing down Tito’s patience,” Cynthia confided.
“Well, one must be willing to pay for his dream to happen,” her husband added philosophically.
But there are rewards as well, Cynthia noted. “For one thing, the staff and personnel of The Artistshop Company, Inc. have been a big support group and have embraced Tito’s advocacy for themselves.
“It’s such a worthy cause that it’s a no-brainer why it should be part of our ARTISTSHOPcares advocacy-based program,” said Elaine V. Antolin, Artistshop VP for Marketing.
The recipient-establishments are most grateful for the extra seating given their impatient patrons, and like the program even more because they’re the ones being credited for being kind-hearted and thoughtful about the elderly, Cynthia said. Heartwarming too is the willingness of a designer burger chain to re-decorate some of its stores to accommodate the SILYA project, she added.
So far, Cynthia noted, the best reward is the feedback from some patrons who tell Alcalá that his advocacy has reminded them of the good old days when their own lolo and lola lounged leisurely in their rocking chairs. But what really touches Tito is when young people call him to inquire if he is selling the chairs (which unfortunately, he isn’t), because they would want to give one as a surprise gift to their elderly parents after being inspired by his program. It always makes his day.
“It’s in our nature to care,” Alcalá pointed out of the public’s response to his chairs. SILYA, he added, is all about building on a dream, one chair at a time.” •