At Bethesda, the intergenerational exchange between teen volunteers and the elderly is priceless. Volunteer coordinators at Dilworth, Meadow and Southgate locations partner with area schools and churches, providing opportunities for young people to interact with long-term care residents.
Teens and Residents Enjoy Activities
In general, teen volunteers make sure mobility challenges don’t outweigh a resident’s enjoyment. Students put away their iPhones and tablets to assist with activities, such as:
- Setting up Wii bowling and baseball tournaments for wheelchair-bound residents
- Helping residents with palsied hands participate in crafts and card games
- Scooping out ice cream for root-beer floats and ice cream socials
- Accompanying seniors on field trips
- Helping with manicures and massages of warm and worn hands that spent a lifetime caring for others
- Transporting residents to therapy sessions
- Entertaining residents with timeless standards and show tunes
Depending on the individual volunteer, some activities may cater to their strengths more than others.
Teens Discover Volunteering Benefits
Volunteering in long-term care helps teens appreciate the need for charitable giving of time and talent.
Opening Teens’ Eyes to the Senior World
These volunteer programs or “service projects” introduce students to a community need they might not be aware of and encourage them to connect with a population they might not otherwise encounter. In the case of long-term care, many teens are expecting to interact with the likes of Betty White or Dick Van Dyke. In reality, the extent of decline of some residents can teach the realities of long-term care.
“People in nursing homes were an abstract statistic to me,” says Jay LeBlanc, a student volunteer. “I’ve learned a lot about the elderly, but I also learned to push myself outside my comfort zone and to respect their longevity.”
Developing Empathy Across the Age Gap
Through these volunteer programs, both sides break down barriers and acquire a new understanding of each other. Students are inspired by the endurance and determination of the elderly. In return, residents are enriched by the youthful energy and optimistic view of the outside world that the teens bring with them. In addition, the “care and share” aspect is an important component in both a teen’s education and the transition to adulthood.
In the matter of faith-based schools and churches/synagogues, community service is often part of the preparation for rite-of-passage rituals, such bar mitzvahs and confirmations. Participants frequently find the experience nurtures their own spirituality at a time when many teens find their spiritual commitment is waning.
Connecting to a Community
By realizing “the power of one”—that one person helping one person can make a difference—teens feel more connected to their community. At the same time, they start understanding the importance of teamwork.
What starts out as “nice thing to do” becomes “the right thing to do.” They learn they can make a difference and for residents in long-term senior care, they do make a difference.