Never Too Young or Old to Volunteer
Two recent articles in local media outlets have caused me to reflect on the value of volunteering with seniors, and how the definition of “caregiving” can expand to include widely diverse activities.
Out of the Mouths of Babes
In the first article, the Contra Costa Times describes how a five-year-old San Jose youngster reached the finals in a “Kindest Kid in America” competition due to her volunteer work in a Campbell senior center. Accompanying her mother, also a volunteer at the center, little Otra Phillips reads books to seniors and recites her own creative efforts. The precocious kindergartener hosts “The Otra Show” at the center, where she regales listeners with her creative interpretations of fairy tales and encourages interaction by asking questions about others’ interpretations of book passages.
Otra also serves desserts, sings songs, dispenses hugs, and plays games with individuals who attend the center. What energy a child can bring to caregiving! And what a tribute to the parenting that fostered both volunteerism and intergenerational engagement.
A Life’s Dream Realized
The other article that caught my eye was recently featured in the San Jose Mercury News. It describes the unique service that one retiree provided a 96-year-old Los Gatos man.
Sol Kent Carson, a retired art professor, has written poetry all his life, often in association with the paintings he has created. Not wanting to throw his life’s work away, Carson wondered whether anything might be publishable. Enter Heart of the Valley, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping area seniors remain independent. The organization contacted Don Barnett, a retired English professor, and he agreed to work with Carson to review and organize his writings.
After reading over 400 pages of Carson’s poetry, sometimes volunteering up to eight hours per day, 75-year-old Barnett felt that the work was definitely publishable. After months of work, “Come Say Hello Before I Go,” a poetry collection, was published.
The “moral” of these two stories? I think there are several:
Volunteer caregiving can be beneficial at any age — to both the volunteer and the recipient. A creative pre-schooler or a retired academician both have something exceptional to offer.
The best caregiving includes social engagement. Young Otra Phillips seems to be a natural at making warm connections with the older adults she meets each week. And the relationship that was forged between the two retired professors is one that Sol Kent Carson credits with giving him “a connection to the outside world.”
Hands-on caregiving draws on unique talents to provide care that transcends a list of items on a check-list. As we think outside the proverbial box, we should ask what particular interests or talents we have that could enrich the life of some individuals needing some brightness in their daily lives.
(Photo by Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group)