I have enlisted my two youngest boys to volunteer at the memory care residence where I work. They will alternate mornings for the duration of the Summer. Some of the tasks that they will be engaged in include assisting the activity director with transporting residents to groups, assisting during groups, taking residents outside and spending 1:1 time with residents completing puzzles, playing checkers etc. Their role as volunteers gets them away from each other during the morning hours, but more importantly it enhances the quality of life of the residents.
I would love to say that the boys have embraced their new roles wholeheartedly, but that would be misleading. They are participating under duress. In some ways I understand their reluctance. Developing a comfort level interacting with persons with dementia takes time. It is easy to become frustrated with the frequent questions and lack of recognition that are typical characteristics of the disease. Even adults don’t always know how to act or what to say to persons with dementia.
That being said, so far, my children have risen to the challenge. Their presence is a delight to the residents that they come in contact with. Many of the residents have stopped at my office door to ask me if the “little guy” is with me. One woman in particular walked into my office and raved about my son. She talked about his energy and how tall he was going to be. This particular woman generally has a strained affect and angry demeanor. In fact, in the time that I have worked with her, that day was the first that I had ever seen her smile. I made a point of stressing to my son what a huge impact his presence had on her on that particular day.
One of my sons had initially been reluctant to share the volunteer job with his brother. I believe that he feared that the residents and staff would favor his brother over him. His experience so far has not reinforced his fear. The staff and residents are equally attentive and welcoming to both boys.
My hope is that this experience will help to foster an openness to future volunteer experiences. There are many activities competing for the attention of our children today. It would be easy for myself and other parents to allow the X-Box and Facebook to completely monopolize our childrens’ free time. I certainly do not relish the push back that I receive from my children when I suggest or mandate alternative activities. I do, however, recognize that my role as a parent requires me to endure the discomfort associated with challenging my children to do good. I am up to the challenge. Are you?