On Friday, Feb. 13th, I raced out of work to strap my kids in their car seats and head to Meadowbrook Senior Center. My daughter was very excited about the very real looking dog in the entryway, and the rest of our visit was exciting as well. We were led into a room with residents in chairs and wheelchairs on all sides of the room. We made our way around, enjoying the smiles and getting mixed reactions to my children’s unusual names. After some teary eyes (including mine), we grouped up for a chorus of “You Are my Sunshine.” Everyone sang along. And I paused, basking in the sunshine that a small gesture can make.
I was really inspired by my friend Katie who, along with her preternaturally sweet 5-year old, Audrey, really took the time to talk to and hug several residents. Looking back, I wish we would have stayed a little longer. Other than that, it was wonderful. I returned home and obsessively checked Facebook to read about other club members who had gone to other homes. One super cool woman had such a great time with her family that she is planning to make regular visits, and her post made me think. I really hope that we will return to a senior center as well because, while handmade cards are AWESOME, (especially some of them that should be featured on Pintrest), building relationships is (in my opinion), the most important part of service.
Want to do this with you family? Here are five tips…
- Call ahead: all the volunteer coordinators we worked with were so kind and helpful, and talking to them in advance is super important. Make sure to ask about parking.
- Prepare your kids in advance (and make sure they are healthy): read books to your kids and talk to them about wheelchairs, confusion, etc.
- Focus the conversation on the kids: The residents may not remember or want to talk about their own stories, but they seemed to love learning random details about the kids. (Ex. this is my son, and he turned four on Wednesday, etc.)
- Take time and give eye contact: I wish I would have followed this advice even more, but real connection comes from taking time and looking people in the eyes.
- Go for it: Kids may not be able to build homes for the homeless or advocate vocally for world peace, but they are cute, and cuteness is a big deal for this project…so allow their cuteness to bless others, and let’s get out there and work together to love people on purpose.