There are so many volunteer opportunities out there for teens today. Mike has shared about his experience with Foster Closet and my best friend Abbi has shared about volunteering at Freedom Ride. Both of those organizations sound incredible! For over ten years now my family has volunteered once a month at a local nursing home.
I hardly remember a time when we didn’t go to the nursing home. I was around 7 years old when we started. Mom took my brother and I on the first Monday of every month. We would serve ice cream (or pizza occasionally) to the residents, sit and visit with them for a while, and then clean everything up.
Mom says that she chose a nursing home so that we could learn early on to do things for people who could not do anything in return for us. Since both of us were so young we always took things along with us so we would have something to talk about with the residents. Kinda like show and tell.
I remember taking pictures of my new kitten, bringing along my build-a-bear so the ladies could help me change his outfit, and even bringing in a tiny puppy once so the residents could enjoy being around a pet for a little while. My brother would play piano and we would even sing hymns sometimes.
Over the years I have learned so much visiting with the elderly in a nursing home:
1 – It’s important to treat everyone with kindness and respect, particularly the elderly.
2 – Working in a nursing home is a tough but rewarding job.
3 – The only way to get over the awkwardness of talking to someone you don’t know is to sit down and start talking.
4 – Being patient with someone is a choice.
5 – It’s an enormous loss to no longer be able to live in your home. Very hard.
6 – You can be cheerful and have a joyful life even in a nursing home. Or not…
A few people stand out to me from over the years. There was one lady who was so cheerful and energetic. She was so excited to see us every month. When we would sit down with us she would tell the same story over and over. She had five children and one of her sons had attended Harvard. She was so proud of all her kids. After a few moments of silence, she would introduce herself to us again and start telling us the story about her children again. We heard this story multiple times every single month. As a little girl I would just giggle to myself but as I got older I started to look forward to seeing her and letting her tell me the story. It made her so happy to tell that story and it made me happy to hear it. One month we got there and she had passed away. I still miss hearing it to this day.
Mr. Carl is an avid sports fan and we usually talk about sports or the latest stories on the news. He is a so much fun and I really enjoy visiting with him and the other residents that come for ice cream.
A few years ago we had to put my great grandmother into the home. It was at this time that I met Ms. Harriet. She was always so friendly and sweet and I already knew her a little bit from serving ice cream every month. She was such a blessing to our family. She reached out to my great-grandmother and would always tell us how she was doing. Ms. Harriet was always smiling and would give us a big hug when we came in. A year ago she got sick and passed away. I still miss seeing her every month.
It is sad as the friends you make pass away but it is so worth it. There are many people in the nursing home we visit who don’t have any friends or family come and visit them. I have had fascinating conversations with people who have had the most amazing lives and I am the better for it. It is also a meaningful way to gain the volunteer hours needed to apply for many college scholarships.
If you are looking for a place to volunteer I highly recommend checking with nursing homes in your area. It’s a fun way to make a difference in someone’s life. You may find that it makes a big difference for you at the same time.
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