A Volunteer Visitor's Story
Several years ago, I was involved in a motor vehicle collision that left me with a traumatic brain injury. I suffered through many physical and emotional stresses and my home became a virtual prison to me. As I had a great deal of spare time on my hands, and wanted to do something useful to assist someone, I applied at VON, and was accepted, as a volunteer driver. I found the time spent aiding seniors helped me regain a sense of self-worth in my life.
Shortly thereafter, I was approached to become involved in the Volunteer Visiting Program. It was explained to me that my participation would allow the client the opportunity to interact with someone on a regular basis and would provide some relief from constantly remaining at home with only the staff providing care for him.
The first time I met my client, I found a 45-year-old man who was confined to a wheelchair, having no use of the right side of his body and unable to communicate. I began to question my ability to honour this commitment. In spite of that doubt, I decided to pursue the visiting program.
In a short time, I saw a man who had been active until he was felled by a stroke 9 years prior. I also saw a man who refused assistance in performing his normal routine and who was determined to attempt to do the things that had come naturally in the past. I saw a man who struggled to stand as I assisted him putting on his jacket. I saw a man who struggled to stand, keep his balance and turn, in order to sit in the passenger seat of my car. I saw a man who refused to give in to his physical and mental limitations. I saw a man attempting to escape his prison in a much stronger and more determined manner than I had in battling my own physical and mental shortcomings.
I quickly came to look forward to planning an outing and seeing him regularly. I looked forward to the gleam in his eye and his broad smile when he greeted me at his door with a 'thumbs up'. I looked forward to joking with him and seeing the impish look in his eyes when he joked with me. I looked forward to spending a few hours with him at a movie, at the arena watching a hockey game, or even sitting in his apartment watching a game on television. I looked forward to spending time with my newfound friend.
Yet, one nagging question lingers in my mind. Who is gaining the most benefit from my participation in the VON Volunteer Visitor Program? My client? Or me?
VON Brings Seniors and Youth Together
A new trend has developed in VON volunteer projects! Intergenerational programming has VON staff and community organizations such as school boards, committees, and seniors’ services centres collaborating in communities from coast to coast to find opportunities for seniors and youth to interact./p>
What could seniors and youth possibly have in common? How can projects like this benefit both generations? These planned activities allow isolated seniors in the community to participate in pageants, arts and crafts, poetry readings, and even Tai-chi demonstrations. Conversely, these intergenerational programs are widely viewed as an excellent strategy to get youth involved in their volunteer community. In some cases, these volunteer activities even count towards classroom credit for students in some provinces.
“Youth are the fastest growing population of volunteers and today’s youth are most interested in helping others in a personal way,” says Chris Peacock, VON Canada Director of Volunteer Services and Program Development. “Volunteer Canada has just released two new resources to encourage and enable the growth of youth volunteerism, and there are several other resources available to assist organizations with ideas for involving youth as volunteers. To engage youth we need to involve them in developing positions that meet their needs and allow them to put their valuable skills to use.”
Intergenerational programming is an initiative that has been successful and very well-received in many communities across Canada. These are a few of the sites that have come up with unique ways to bring seniors and youth together. VON Middlesex-Elgin arranged for seniors to join students at school for lunch, VON Perth-Huron gathers students together with seniors living with Alzheimer’s or related disorders on a monthly basis for arts and crafts, and VON Queen’s County organized an Intergenerational Coffee House which has since become an annual event.
“We’ve seen first hand how happy these activities make the seniors and the students,” states Margo Walsh Leaman, Coordinator of Volunteer Services for VON Queens County. “One elderly lady was saying how much she enjoyed the Intergenerational Coffee House because she hadn’t had a night out since her husband passed away. It’s clear the program is making a difference in the lives of both the seniors and the students.”
With the support of other local community service providers and of enthusiastic volunteers, it is easy for VON sites to help forge lasting relationships between seniors and youth across the country and to encourage local youth to give back to their community.