Before volunteering at the Jewish Home, my only other experience with seniors was the home my grandmother lives in back in Illinois.

I was used to seeing seniors in their rooms, keeping to themselves, and that’s what I expected. However, what I saw within Ovation Communities was quite the opposite. I experienced an overwhelming sense of community and mutual respect between the staff and residents. At my grandmother’s, there is a lack of the human interaction that the Jewish Home has. I have noticed the friendships between the residents, and it made me so happy to see seniors in such good moods. I know that’s not always the case, but I was surprised when I noticed that. When I would volunteer, I noticed how friendly the residents were to me and each other.

One surprising thing I have learned about seniors is they act a lot younger than they look. One of the residents mentioned to me that he still feels 20 years old on the inside, it is just the body that has aged. And I have noticed that. Their senses of humor knocked me off my feet. I wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I did.

I also learned about the importance of human interaction. That is what keeps life exciting. As one gets older, different things are prioritized. Material possessions become less important, and conversations, or simply just spending time together means the world to them.

I tell my friends and family that going to volunteer is always the highlight of my week. I want all of them to know how enjoyable it is to be around seniors. They truly have so much to share with me because they have a whole lifetime of experiences. Some things I could never imagine going through. They are the generation that should be valued for their worth, not forgotten. I think some people are turned off because they believe there won’t be anything to talk about, or seniors are boring. I have experienced the opposite. I love hearing stories about the “olden times” and seniors truly love telling stories. To see how some of their faces light up when they talk about their childhood friends, or especially their grandchildren, warms my heart.

Something funny I would like to share is how many grandchildren I now know about from volunteering. They don’t know me, but I know when they win a soccer game or have a dance recital. I even talked to one person who wants to set me up with their grandson. That made me laugh a lot. My favorite thing about volunteering is how much I enjoy myself. Sometimes, I find myself
laughing so hard with some of the residents, I now consider them my friends.

I have also learned some things about the Jewish culture, besides Kosher. I grew up Catholic, and something I found quite universal is sense of family. All those who I have interacted with have a strong sense of family. Even those whose family members don’t come visit often seem to believe family is of strong importance, which is what I believe as well. The Jewish culture is very accepting and inviting, and although I am not Jewish, I feel completely comfortable and accepted here.

I have learned to put myself in other people’s shoes. I want the other person to be the most comfortable. By asking myself, “what would I want if I were them?” helps me to interact in the most respectful and enjoyable way. I have also learned not everything is about me. I have learned the importance of listening in order to understand and not to relate. Sometimes people need someone just to listen, and that’s something I will take into the future to apply to every aspect of life. That is their form of expression and it must be respected. I have had the most wonderful volunteering experience at the Jewish Home, and I hope to continue, because it is not only helping them, it is helping me