Service as Education
Earlier this year, a colleague and I were discussing our families and he shared that his daughter was volunteering at a nursing home to satisfy her high school’s service requirement for her Theology class. As part of this requirement, the students have to write a quarterly reflection on their service experiences. At the nursing home, my colleague’s daughter worked with dementia patients. I asked if they were willing to share her reflections and they recently allowed me to read them. It is with permission that I share this young woman’s thoughts today.
She describes her reasons for choosing the nursing home as her place of service:
I chose to volunteer at (the nursing home) because some of my friends have done service there and highly recommended it. Also, a woman who goes to my church works there and I have heard good things from her as well. When I first began service I was sort of nervous and a little scared that I wouldn’t be able to have fun with the residents. As soon as I began the activities and talking to the residents all my nerves went away. I did not expect that I would have so much fun doing my service. I personally thought that doing service was going to be extremely boring but it wasn’t at all. After seeing some of the residents it made me feel sad because I never could imagine what it would be like if I lost my memory. It made me feel really bad because they can’t do anything about it and it gave me such joy to put a smile on their face.
Early on, she recognized that the residents have dynamic interactions of their own. One relationship in particular stood out in her reflections. About it, she writes:
In helping the elderly I have learned to always think of others before you think of yourself. I have experienced God through two people in particular. Their names are Hope and Bob. They are best friends and they are always looking out for each other. Bob always makes sure Hope is okay and they are always talking to each other and playing games with each other. Bob has taught me to put others first because he is always thinking about Hope before himself. Through them I can hear God telling me to go and serve others and bring them joy.
In her second quarter at the nursing home, she encountered a resident who she actually knew. The resident did not remember her due to advanced Alzheimer’s Disease. However, the young woman continued to work with her and engaged the resident in activities. About this she writes:
In the past quarter I served a lady named Betty. She is tall, thin, and tan and had white hair. When I first met her she looked so familiar. I started thinking about where I had known her from and then I remembered she used to sing in the choir at my church with my dad. I remembered clearly who she was but unfortunately she has Alzhiemer’s and did not remember who I was. I played LinkSenior with her and she kept saying, “I don’t know how.” But as soon as we started playing, she knew exactly what to do. She was a very quiet and nice lady. It was very exciting how I served someone who I had not seen in a very long time.
In her final quarter at the nursing home, she reflected upon her fears and what she has learned as a result of her service to the residents of the nursing home.
When I first began my service I was afraid that the residents would be difficult to work with and I was afraid they wouldn’t do anything interesting. My view of the elderly has completely changed. I now view the residents as my friends, who are so nice and easy to work with. Even though they are living with dementia, it is fun talking to them and playing games with them. Some residents are actually very smart and remember during the memory games we play with them. My view of the elderly has changed and I love working with them.
By doing service at (the nursing home) I have learned how fortunate I am to have my grandparents and my great grandma in my life. I have learned how fortunate I am to have grandparents who have not lost their memories. The grandchildren of the residents at (the nursing home) have a different relationship with their grandparents than I do with mine. I can ask my grandparents about when they were younger and about different things in the past. The grandchildren of the residents cannot do that because their grandparents have lost their memory. My relationships with my grandparents have always been strong but it has grown even stronger over the past few months. I am so thankful for my grandparents and the residents at (the nursing home).
I’m very honored that my colleague and his daughter decided to share her reflections with me and allow them to be shared here as well. She made me recall the day I volunteered at a nursing home. I was ill prepared for my experiences that day and never returned. This young woman continued volunteering at her chosen nursing home for 9 months. From what she wrote, it seems she approached her experiences with the residents with compassion and respect.
It also appears that she gained some insights into her own relationships as well as the relationships of those she served. Imagine how less isolated caregivers would feel if more people could have some of the same understanding that this young woman achieved as a result of her service.