A few years ago my friend and I decided to volunteer at an assisted living home. Her dad worked there, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to work with the elderly. We went each week during the summer for a full day, and occasionally we assisted with small parties for residents and their families.
Although it was slow at the beginning, merely straightening cluttered craft closets, we hung in there. Eventually we were put in charge of the weekly "Country Cart," a very big cart on wheels that we took to each resident's room with little candies, stationary, and knick knacks that they could buy to share with friends or give to family members. At first I thought this was a meaningless job (to keep us out of the way). But after a few weeks, I realized I now knew little things about the residents that I hadn't before. This "meaningless job" had started to seem like a way for me to get to know the people. After a while, I knew who would buy what, and what rooms not to bother going to.
Then the administrator put us in charge of visiting one lady who had become blind. The first thing I noticed was that
she was so in charge of her life that you would have never guessed she had this problem. Each week, we took her for a walk around the grounds, which she saw as our job. At the time I might have agreed, but as I look back, I see I took a lot from those few walks. She educated me about her generation, family, and way of life. Yes, I probably heard every story five times due to her slipping memory, but that probably helped me remember them better.
Another woman who sticks in my mind was one who bought items from the cart in mass quantities. She had many health problems, and it took her a lot of effort to leave her chair, but every week she was waiting with a smile and a conversation when we came around.
I stopped volunteering two years ago, but my experiences stick with me to this day. It was my first real "job," and realize I learned many of life's lessons there. From watching those whose health had deteriorated put on a smile and keep going, to those who had overcome disabilities and put themselves in charge of their own lives, I took a lot with me each time I left. fl
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.