Seniors Helping Seniors Scholarship 2018 – 2nd Place Winner – Ana Danko

Bay Alarm Medical

May 2, 2018

My Experience with the Elderly

Last year, I took Hospice at my high school. In the class, we learned about care giving and volunteering with the elderly, and I began volunteering with Islands Hospice. I volunteered with Islands Hospice on Sundays for 1-2 hours throughout the school year. After the school year ended, I went to Belize with my Hospice teacher and a fellow student to do volunteer work with hospice patients. We worked with the nurses at the Southern Regional Hospital in Dangriga to do home visits for hospice patients in the community. The patient that I connected with the most was Janie; she was 97 and had lived in Belize for her entire life. She spoke Belizean Creole, so it was difficult to understand her at first, but with some translation help from her grandson, we talked for several hours. Janie told me about her life and her family in Belize. My favorite story was about the time she visited her sister in America. When I asked her if she liked America, she said “No!” And when I asked why, she responded with “Too cold! Too cold!” It turns out she had visited her sister in California in the fall, but compared to the intense heat of Belize, even California was “too cold”. I can still vividly remember Janie’s warm smile and how happy she was telling us her stories.

After my time volunteering in Belize and with Islands Hospice, I was inspired to try to make a positive impact in the lives of the elderly through research. I applied for and received a grant through my school to research the effects of classical music on the sleep quality of Alzheimer’s patients. With the help of my hospice teacher, I was able to get four participants for my study from Manoa Cottage Kaimuki nursing home. I then spent the rest of my summer and the first quarter of the school year going to Manoa Cottage every day to work with the patients and collect data for my research. One of my patients, Eleanor, didn’t have family on the island, so I spent time almost every day talking to her and helping the nurses feed her.

Because of her Alzheimer’s, she forgot who I was every day, but she was always happy to see me.

Almost every time I talked to her, Eleanor would ask me if I lived in the home with her, and when I told her that I was just visiting she was always shocked. I absolutely loved working with Eleanor and the other patients and I am so glad I was able to work with Manoa Cottage for my research. Through my research, I found that music significantly improved one of my participants sleep, and I was so happy that I was able to positively impact her life. I have been accepted into the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to study lifespan health, and I plan to continue to do research and volunteer work throughout college.

Through my time working with the elderly, I’ve learned so much about caregiving and about life. I’ve learned so many lessons throughout my time volunteering with the elderly, but the most important lesson I’ve learned is to be present. As a busy and involved student, I’m so often worrying and thinking about my future that I forget to appreciate the present. While volunteering with hospice patients, I realized that I needed to be both physically and mentally present to make the most of my time with them. When volunteering, I could forget about my stressful life, and simply enjoy and appreciate the time I was spending with the patients. One of my most powerful experiences from volunteering in hospice is when I sat with a patient for almost two hours and simply held her hand. She had severe Alzheimer’s disease and was unable to speak. When I first arrived, she was very agitated and she gripped my hand tightly. As I sat with her, she slowly relaxed and by the time I left, she was quite calm and peaceful. I learned from her that something as simple as being present and holding hands can have an enormous impact on someone’s life.

I think that encouraging students to volunteer with the elderly in the community is very important. It would improve both the lives of the elderly, by providing companionship, and the lives of the students, by teaching them life lessons. I was lucky enough to have a hospice class offered at my high school, and I think that other schools should start offering similar courses. School classes would give students the opportunity to get involved in the community and learn to care for our elders. I also think that having student-led clubs, groups, and activities involving volunteering with the elderly would encourage others to join and begin spending time volunteering. I also believe that getting rid of the stigma of hospice homes would encourage more youth to volunteer. When I tell people that I volunteer with hospice patients, almost everyone comments how sad it must be to volunteer in a hospice home. While it is very sad that the patients I volunteer with are dying, I’ve found volunteering with them to be wonderful and rewarding. It makes me so happy to know that I’ve positively impacted another person’s life. I would like others to understand that volunteering with the elderly and the dying is so much more rewarding than it is sad. I truly hope that more youth begin to volunteer with the elderly in their communities.

I am so grateful that I have been able to spend time volunteering with the elderly. I have learned so much from my time with them and have had many wonderful experiences. I would encourage anyone that I know to spend more time with their grandparents and begin volunteering at a care home in their community.

Congratulations to our three winners:
  • 1st place: $3,500 – Awarded to Madeline Row. Madeline is studying nursing at Point Loma Nazarene University.
  • 2nd place: $2,000 – Ana Danko. Ana is studying Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
  • 3rd place: $1,000 – Rachel Dovsky. Rachel is studying at Mira Costa College.

These deserving students were chosen from more than 400 entries. It was a difficult choice, as we are impressed by the volunteer work being done by so many of you. Thank you for dedicating your time to helping America’s seniors. Visit our Scholarship page for further details or if you are interested in learning more about our Seniors for Seniors Scholarship.