Just down the road from Emory & Henry College is a place that is easily missed by most people, but prominent in the hearts and minds of a few Emory & Henry students.
It’s a place where residents welcome new faces, savor the time we spend with them, and sometimes cry when we have to leave. It’s a place where there are plenty of hugs to share and the sounds of laughter are contagious. I’m talking about Gregory’s Rest Home where I have volunteered for two years through the Emory & Henry Bonner Scholarship program.
The residents absolutely love it when we visit. They sometimes call us their family. They are usually very eager to do the activities we have planned simply because it is something different. It is very unusual to leave without a kiss on the forehead from one of the residents. I guess you could say they love us.
And, we love them.
This semester, I was offered a leadership role, managing first-year volunteers who were assigned to Gregory’s Rest Home. My job is to open their eyes to the importance of offering assistance to the residents, especially since this is a service site they may have avoided before learning more about it. I’m also learning how my leadership role differs from my role as a volunteer last year.
Being a leader and volunteer at Gregory’s may not always be easy but it’s something I would not trade for the world. Gregory’s Rest Home is a dwelling for elderly individuals who cannot take care of themselves. They need help doing everyday tasks that come easy to most people.
Unfortunately, many of the residents lack family involvement. Many of them do not receive visitors and are deprived of any communication with the outside world other than what they receive from the staff and the volunteers.
The Emory & Henry volunteers engage the residents in a variety of activities that are not always available to them. Since many of the residents are at risk for falling, we choose activities that they can do while sitting. The volunteers play Bingo, lead chair exercises, read stories, sing songs, play music, do crafts for the holidays and teach lessons about what different holidays mean, cook for them, organize movie days, paint their fingernails, and make bracelets. On occasion we do something special, such as giving them facials or letting them pie us in the face when they win a bingo game. My group tries to keep it interesting so that they never get bored.
But, we always take time to sit down with each of the residents and just listen to what they have to say.
At the beginning of the year, I chose the weekly activities for the residents to help the E&H volunteers feel more comfortable working with a diverse group of people. However, in order to help the volunteers gain more experience, I have recently asked one person from my group every week to choose an activity for “role days” at the site. I am starting to see a big change in how their confidence levels are rising at the site as well as how much they are beginning to enjoy what they do.
Being a leader at Gregory’s Rest Home has been challenging, but I am really enjoying the experience. As a leader, I help the volunteers in my group to adjust to some of the same issues I experienced last year. It’s interesting to see how they have the same questions and the same concerns that I did.
These small steps will hopefully help the new volunteers to become leaders one day. I also hope they will be able to lead at Gregory’s and continue to make positive changes at the site. The people at Gregory’s are so deserving of the service we can provide.
My greatest challenge is making sure that I have everything planned ahead of time. For example, we are planning a Christmas party at Gregory's this semester and we are already trying to get everything ready for that. As a leader I have realized that in order to get things done I must plan every detail. Another challenge I have is answering all of the questions of my group of volunteers. I never imagined there would be so many questions until I became the one responsible for answering. I am so worried about giving the wrong advice, but I just keep telling myself that they come to me for a reason.
The reward of being a volunteer is being able to make a difference in someone's life, including my own. It’s wonderful to be able to get away from busy school life and talk about simpler things like the weather and television shows. Sometimes getting a break from the hustle and bustle of the world is the best part. I sometimes think the service they do for me is greater than what I do for them.
The greatest lesson I have learned as a volunteer is that in order to understand someone's situation, you have to be willing to learn about their background and why they face challenges. You have to hear the full story without being closed minded. I also have learned to not take things for granted. One of the greatest things that the people miss at the rest home is their families, and because of my service at the rest home, I know that I will never take my family for granted.
The greatest lesson I have learned as a leader is that the world really isn't a bad place to live. My group makes me so proud every single day and it’s because they truly do care about what they do. They love to volunteer and I look around the United States at how many Bonner Scholarship programs are out there and I know there must be other students that feel the same way. I see that all it takes is for one site to steal a person’s heart.
I was always skeptical to try new things before volunteering at Gregory's but now I know that new opportunities can turn into the best parts of my life.