2014 Writing Enhanced Course Award
Atria Volunteer Journal
The word I would attribute to last week's visit to the Atria is "relaxed." At this point, I feel very comfortable visiting and interacting with most of the residents. Because there were other activities taking place last week and it was a holiday week, there were few residents on the main floor, and so the environment was very laid back and relaxing. We were able to sit in the art activity with Diane and the other residents and brush up on current events and then we went to the library to knit and do a puzzle. Because there were fewer residents, it was easier and more natural to have one on one conversations, but it also sometimes felt like there wasn't much for you to do. For this reason, the most significant event that I could think of was when one of the residents came over while I was doing a puzzle and started to help me. For me, this was significant because she felt comfortable approaching me, making the interaction feel much less forced. At one point, there was a very specific puzzle piece that no one could find, but the woman working on the puzzle with me determinedly looked for it most of my time there.
Based on the relaxed environment of last week, one less I learned was to not always be dependent on someone telling you what to do. Rather, take your own initiative. There won't always be specific steps for you to follow or jobs for you to accomplish, but if you have a good understanding of your enviornment, you'll see to it on your own what needs to be or can be done to best utilize your time. In turn, I would advise other volunteers to do the same. Sometimes, there will be a specific job for you to do, but other times, there may not be. Don't be defeated by this unstructured environment, or use it as an excuse to not do anything at all. Always seek a way to make your volunteer work significant.
An adjective I would use to describe my volunteer experience at the Atria last week would be informative. I spent most of my time there with Diane, doing activities and I had the great pleasure of talking to her and learning about the things she does at the Atria. I found that I related to her in a lot of ways, and in that realization, I saw how my abilities and traits could be beneficial to others. She talked a lot about the types of activities that she tries to plan at the residence home and which ones work depending on the capabilities of the residents. Diane was a fount of interesting information, and I found it very telling how just her talking to the residents about different topics--astrology, gemology, women's issues--was often enough to keep them interested and engaged. I learned that something as simple as talking about different subjects could benefit the residents. I also learned (sort of) how to knit.
While we were knitting, I noticed that one of the women was speaking with an Italian accent and that several of the other residents would ask her about Italy. Though initially shy about initiating conversation, I finally asked her if she was originally from Italy and where in Italy she was from. I found out that she was from Rome and was able to have a very nice conversation with her about it because I am studying there over the summer. Based on this significant event, I offer other volunteers the advice of being aware of your surroundings and things that the residents say. When you engage with them on those things it shows that you were paying attention and that you care. Also, relating to what they're saying and offering personal anecdotes can sometimes make conversation easier.
One word I would use to describe my second volunteer experience at the Atria would be "Relaxed." I was very appreciative that when we got there, we were given a clear description of the things that were going on and that we would be able to participate it. For the first half of the time, we got to sit with the residents and watch a movie. Though we came in late and sat in the back, when the lights came on and the residents were leaving, they seemed very happy to see us. We were then able to learn a little bit more about the programs that go on there and participate in stretching class again.
While we were stretching, one of the women, who had a little dog, sat beside me. Though I was a bit nervous about talking to the residents at first, the dog became somewhat of an ice breaker. As silly as it seems, because the dog came over to me, I was able to talk to his owner and learn a little bit about her.
When speaking to the stretch class teacher at knitting, she was talking about her degree in art therapy. She said that because people are living longer, that the upcoming generation will have a lot of opportunities to do more active and engaging tasks with the elderly because they will still be capable. This made me really think about how the generations are changing. When I am older, there will be a large group of older people because of the baby boom generation, but they will be able to and want to participate in activities that today's elderly cannot. Being aware of this will certainly benefit me in understanding the people that I work with in the future.
One piece of advice that I would give to someone volunteering would be to not be shy. The residents are very welcoming and friendly and enjoy when you engage in conversation or activity with them. Even just smiling or showing some acknowledment of them can really break the ice and initiate a conversation.