A Month of Volunteering (@ A Long-Term Care Residence)

I was sitting at a table in a long term care residence, waiting for a bingo game to start.

On my right was a very old woman in a wheelchair who always brought a stuffed toy rabbit around with her. She’d often pet the rabbit and try to tell me about it, or she’d talk about other things, but unfortunately I usually couldn’t make out what she said. She seemed very sincere when she tried to communicate. Her lips would move slightly, and little puffs of unintelligible sound would come out, but recognizable words were few and far between.

Luckily she didn’t seem to be aware that no one could really understand her. And when I responded by smiling and nodding, or by saying something that I feared had no connection to what she’d just tried to communicate to me, she seemed to be satisfied.

A few seconds before the bingo game began her daughter showed up to help her mother with the game, so I didn’t end up needing to help her myself.

Instead, I was able to focus most of my attention to the guy on my left.  He was a also in a wheelchair but was around my age – much younger than most of the residents.

I’m not sure what his condition was, but during the game he had difficulty guiding his fingers to the right places on the bingo card. He moved his hands slowly, and didn’t always succeed in covering up the numbers that he intended to. I tried to intervene as little as possible, but helped him out by covering the numbers myself when he needed a hand.

He was also sometimes unsure whether he was selecting the right numbers, so he’d look to me for confirmation when he needed it. I’d let him know whether or not he was right, and sometimes would point out a number on his card that had been called that he hadn’t noticed.

When the game was over, I mentioned something about it being too bad that he hadn’t won anything. He responded by saying something that I couldn’t quite make out. He repeated himself a few times until I realized he was saying that although he didn’t win any money this time, he could still get some money by threatening the girl who was running the bingo game. It was a joke (it really was – he assured me of that a few times) that probably would have been funnier if I’d been able to understand him correctly the first time.

And thus ended a typical session of volunteering at that long term care residence, which was my project for the month of June 2012.

Most of the times when I went in to volunteer, I’d help transport residents to the activity for the day (pushing wheelchairs, or helping people walk), help out during the activity as needed, and then help transport residents back to their rooms or to one of the common areas.

Aside from bingo, some of the activities I helped out with included barbeques, live music performances (I didn’t perform – just helped with other aspects), and a few times I played cards with some residents.

A Few Rhetorical Questions:

Why volunteering? I live a pretty selfish life. I’m single and have no children. I’m rarely focused on anyone’s needs besides my own. I thought it would be a good idea try to doing something a bit less selfish for a while.

Why a long term care residence?  The reason I volunteered at this long term care residence is because it was one of the few places that allowed me to:
* Work directly with people who needed some kind of help
* Volunteer for only a month (many other opportunities required a 6 month commitment)

What is a long term care residence?  It’s a residence for people who can’t take care of themselves anymore. Most of the residents where I volunteered were elderly, but others were younger and for one reason or another couldn’t live on their own. Most were physically disabled, and some (but not all) were somehow mentally disabled also. For most of the people who live in a long term care residence, it will be the last place they live.

Did I Enjoy Volunteering?  Overall, yes. I was quite apprehensive at first – not knowing what to expect or whether I’d be comfortable dealing with the residents. I found that it didn’t take me long to become comfortable with everything though, and although what I did while volunteering wasn’t the type of thing that I’d generally choose to do for “fun”, it felt good to be directly helping other people for a few hours each week. Darn it – was I really volunteering for selfish reasons – to make myself feel good?

Will I Volunteer Again?  I hope so. All things considered, the residents where I volunteered have a great life – great workers, a very nice building, activities every day, etc. Volunteers certainly do add real value there, but the next time I volunteer I hope it will be at a place where my help is needed a bit more desperately.  If I had unlimited hours in the day, I’d probably still be volunteering somewhere now.  But alas, due to time constraints I’ve put off further volunteering to sometime in the future.

Tell Me Something Else.  Ok.  The employees who worked at the residence do a great job.  They were far better at dealing with the residents than I’ll ever be. I was impressed by the fact that they were still kind and patient (in a non-condescending way) every day even after working with the residents full-time for years.

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