As the holiday season approaches, many of us are frantically looking for presents, planning holiday parties and prepping for the New Year.
The holiday season is also a great time to give back to the community as a volunteer, and plenty of opportunities exist to volunteer at senior living facilities and communities.
Kindness Cannot be Given Away
“You cannot give away a kindness,” says Ruth Kohl, a Volunteer with Bethesda Meadow and Bethesda Hospice Care, and the President of the Bethesda Meadow Auxiliary. Though Ruth has been “giving away” kindness as a volunteer with Bethesda for 30 years, she finds her kindness is often returned by the people she meets.
Before volunteering with Bethesda, Ruth visited senior women as part of the St. Louis County Older Residents Program. “These women had suffered losses,” she says. “Perhaps their spouse had died, some had financial problems, or they were ill and lonely. They just wanted someone to show up at their door.”
What they gave to Ruth was special. “When I was 39, my mother passed away,” she says. “So there were many life lessons I didn’t have the chance to receive from her. From their experiences and concern for me, these women taught me to smile through adversity. They touched my heart.”
Volunteering at a Senior Care Facility Provides Sharing Opportunities
Like most people, seniors want to open their hearts during the holidays, show their appreciation for others, and renew bonds with families and friends. As a volunteer, you can share moments of your life with them and give them the gift of sharing with you.
For example, Ruth volunteers at the Bethesda Meadow gift shop. She says it’s not about selling items as much as giving residents a chance to leave their rooms and purchase gifts for a family member or someone on the Bethesda staff.
It’s About Living in the Moment
As a Hospice Care volunteer, Ruth sees her role as bringing companionship to Hospice patients. She may pour over a patient’s photo album with them, read to them, and learn about their families and special memories. “I played a Frank Sinatra CD for one woman because it was the music she danced to when she met her future husband at a USO party,” she says.
She may gently touch a patient as a means of comforting and connecting with them. “Volunteers are there for them, whatever they need,” she says. “We want them to feel comfortable, and if they need to share their feelings, we will listen. If they want to share a laugh, we can do that too.”
Holidays are About Family, Healing, and Remembering
Even Ruth’s grandchildren have benefited from her efforts as she would sometimes bring them on a visit when they were still in strollers. “They became used to people in wheelchairs—maybe they thought of them as strollers for adults. I’m so glad that both the residents and they enjoyed each other.”
According to Ruth, volunteers often feel both her patients’ emotional pain and moments of healing resolution at the end of their lives. Ruth remembers a woman who had two children that were estranged from each other. “It hurt her to think of it,” she recalls. “Finally, the children resolved their differences. When they did, the woman passed on in peace.”
The children insisted that Ruth accept a small artificial Christmas tree their mother had owned as a token of their appreciation for Ruth’s care. “My husband said we would make it our Christmas tree every year. We’ve never put another one up,” she says.
Giving the Gift of Celebration
When Ruth tells people she is a Hospice Care volunteer, they are often taken aback. “I don’t understand that reaction, because it’s a blessing for me,” she says. “I always feel better after my visit.”
Perhaps the most important gift she has received as a Hospice Care volunteer is a perspective on life. “In hospice, you learn to celebrate every day that you have.”
Our senior care communities and services across St. Louis are looking for energetic and dedicated volunteers this holiday season to brighten the lives of seniors. Contact us to learn about the volunteer opportunities at a Bethesda community or service near you.