Fall 2018 Seniors Helping Seniors Spring Scholarship – 1st Place Winner
Bay Alarm Medical
November 11, 2018
Expanding the Horizons for High Schoolers and Senior Citizens Alike
Beginning my junior year in high school I started to experience the joys of working with an underrepresented group of people in my town—senior citizens. I grew up close with my grandparents and when they started to become ill, it became apparent that they valued having someone to be with throughout their day. Loneliness became more prevalent once they were placed in nursing homes, and it dawned on me that most residents undoubtedly feel the same way, especially if they do not have family.
Spring of my junior year, I began the process of engineering an idea for my Honors Program Capstone Project and quickly decided that I would dedicate my time to connecting students from my high school to local senior citizens.
I dreamed of a program that would both create a positive change in the residents’ lives and develop a sustainable way to unite the community by encouraging students to become more comfortable engaging in conversations with people outside their age group.
I reached out to the local assisted living facility, Valley Terrace, and asked if they would be willing to host a group of high schoolers for an hour each week to visit with the residents. The facility was very receptive of the idea and soon after, a group of eight high schoolers began their journey into the unknown depths of the lives of an elder generation.
While at the facility we worked with residents from the Dementia, Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Unit, which allowed us to interact with a plethora of residents at a time. I enjoyed learning about their pasts, and they seemed to enjoy learning about our lives; but as we came back each week, we had to spend time reteaching the residents about who we were and why we were there. Despite this minor inconvenience, the joy that we brought each other was significant nonetheless. Now that we have been visiting with them for a while, they seem to better understand who we are and anticipate our arrival.
Working with the residents has taught me many things, and I find the most noteworthy lesson to be that small things go a long way. Most of the residents in the Memory Care Unit are not allowed to roam freely or do whatever they want, on their own, but the constraints do not curtail their energy to do so. When we visit the facility, the residents especially love playing a game of “balloon volleyball” which is essentially batting around a balloon at other residents while sitting around a table. They put so much enthusiasm into hitting the balloon. Even though it does not seem like a typical fun game, it means the world to them and shows that such a simple activity can engage people for hours. We have also made cards for the seniors on their birthdays and although most kids in high school or middle school find cards rather insignificant, the residents think they are the greatest thing.
Visiting the seniors used to be the highlight of my week. It allowed me to forget about school and just enjoy life. Unfortunately, now that I am in college, I am unable to visit them on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, I made sure to visit over the summer and I plan to visit them on my college breaks. I also make sure to check in with my program constantly and to ensure that it is developing well and continuing to thrive. It is gratifying knowing that I am making a difference in other people’s lives and I hope that students will continue to have this opportunity throughout their high school career.
This experience has widened my stance on possible careers. I have always wanted to work with patients suffering from mental illnesses and working with these residents has inspired me to possibly specialize in geriatrics. I have had such a positive experience that I am hoping to do some volunteering at other locations that can provide me with more clinical opportunities while still enjoying time spent with the older generation and still visiting the residents I have gotten to know so well. Already, while at college, I have involved myself in a Neurodegenerative Diseases club that works closely with a local Alzheimer’s facility and Elderly Program at the hospital. This has allowed me to create connections with the senior citizens in my new community, and the experiences gained continue to fill me with joy and a sense of purpose.
Creating, and being a part of the Adopt-a-Grandparent Program, has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone by speaking in front of the school, and reaching out to other students to get involved with the older generation. I highly encourage people in all communities to either create their own program for themselves and others, join a program, or volunteer and visit at a facility that works with elderly residents. The multitude of experiences and memories created with senior citizens is overwhelming and there are many lessons you can learn as well as personal attributes to be gained.
And if students, and people alike, are fortunate enough to have their grandparents still, I highly encourage them to spend time with them frequently. After losing my grandparents and spending significant time with the Valley Terrace residents, I regret not spending as much time with my own as I could have. Nothing strenuous is necessary, just spark a conversation, take them out for a small meal or ice cream or even just sit and watch TV with them. Despite them not necessarily expressing a positive experience, they definitely appreciate you taking your time to spend with them. It may not seem significant enough to initiate, but it’s always worth your time to make someone else’s day better.