The ‘other’ activity workers

After living here for a few months, I discovered we had some wonderful volunteers. A retired gentleman came every other weekday to read parts of the newspaper and hold discussions with the residents. Afterward, he talked to us about things that happened to him or distinctive stories he had heard. He always endeavored to bring up the “good old days” so that the oldest residents could relate. While he was casting his magic, I did not go in the dining room. I preferred to listen from outside and watch him weave his spells.

We were also frequented by a woman who did Bible stories in the morning and a couple singers who came in at different times during the month.

The activity director at that time either had a great ability to get people to volunteer or was extremely lucky because most of them donated a lot of their time. She also had activity director and activity therapy students do their clinicals here. Since they were studying, they were much more interested in entertaining the residents. They gave a healthy boost to the activity department.

Most volunteers were affiliated with a church, so there were Sunday church services and two or three other church activities during the week.

I knew these seemingly irreplaceable volunteers would someday no longer be able to visit. I wondered how difficult it would be to find others who could fill their places with the same enthusiasm. A few months later, a new activity director came and she was not as gifted in locating volunteers.

Eventually, this activity director was able to get a few students to come here for their clinicals. We enjoyed having them and the facility had extra people with new and different ideas. But as soon as we got used to them, they were finished and gone.

Several years ago the juvenile court suggested sending teenagers here to perform their community service hours. It probably sounded like a good idea but very few were worth the trouble. Many thought community service at this nursing home would be easy duty. They usually just followed around the staff person who was in charge of them instead of being assets to the activity department.

The present activity director was thrilled when the local schools asked if students could do community service here. Unfortunately, they came here to get their community service paper signed and never showed up again. This was reported to the school and we probably lost a source for potential volunteers.

Since I have coordinated volunteers for a nonprofit social service agency, I think there should be specific volunteer job descriptions. If people have no guidelines, they do not know quite what to do. Not everyone is a self-starter. Volunteers also need to be appreciated. That may mean the activity director needs to attend evening volunteer group activities, just to show that he or she notices how much they are doing.

Presently, the nursing home is running an ad for volunteers on the local cable public access channel. They are looking for singers, musicians, karaoke leaders, and folks who would like to spend time with the residents. There may be people out there who would like to volunteer but do not think that they have anything to offer. I recently read that some educated people who have been out of the workforce due to the recession have turned to volunteering to make them feel better about themselves.

I know from experience that volunteering is very rewarding. But it is also very much a job. People depend on you and rely on you to be there. And you do not get paid. However, volunteers need to understand that they provide residents with an invaluable service that we would otherwise not receive.


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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Southeastern Ohio for the past 14 years.

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Long-Term Living 2010 June;59(6):64

Topics: Activities , Articles