According to dictionary.com, “volunteers” are people who donate their time and energy to benefit the community as a social responsibility rather than for a financial reward.
In health-care settings, volunteers are particularly important because they can help enhance the entire patient experience.
In top-notch nursing homes and hospitals, it’s vital to make sure that the right emotional support is available, as well as the best medical care. While clinical staff members provide both, they’re always grateful to have additional eyes and ears.
With National Volunteer Week coming up from April 21 to April 27, this is a good time to explain the benefits of volunteering, not only for the residents and patients, but also for those of us who lend a hand.
I feel as though I’m qualified to share my thoughts because, thanks to my mother, Anna Samuels, I’ve been volunteering since I was 4 years old, and I’m about to celebrate my 91st birthday.
One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that I get as much, if not more, from volunteering as the people I assist.
Among the more practical advantages of volunteering are:
• Learning new skills
• Utilizing the talents you enjoy
• Taking advantage of training sessions
• Networking and earning community service hours
• Using skills you’ve picked up to help your own family and friends
• Picking up better ways to communicate
• Making new friends — including residents, patients, other volunteers and staff members
However, it’s the non-tangibles that change your life and make an impact on you. They include:
• The chance to be of service
• The satisfaction of helping others
• The knowledge of making a true difference
• An increase in self-confidence
• The creative use of your time to avoid boredom
• The ability to be proud of your accomplishments
• The chance to have fun
You should not worry if you don’t have specific skills. Some of the most meaningful interactions happen when you just spend time reading to patients and residents, reminiscing about the “good old days” or just sitting and holding someone’s hand. In fact, I have developed a nice relationship with a woman living in a nursing home who only speaks Russian even though I don’t.
Also, in nursing homes, bringing children or grandchildren to visit residents gives them a boost and puts smiles on their faces. It’s also a good way for you to spend time with your own loved ones. The same can be said for your dogs, if they are permitted in long-term care centers. Going on a stroll in the fresh air is also wonderful for residents.
Even if you can’t volunteer regularly, special events take place where added help is needed. I recently volunteered at a Passover Seder at a nursing home, and I’ve spent countless hours stepping up on many other religious holidays.
If you would rather help from home, knitting or other creative pastimes can keep someone warm and cozy. Groups are also welcome to volunteer.
I can’t really describe what it means to receive a hug, a kiss or just a thank you from someone who is very glad to see you. However, the bottom line is that choosing to spend some of your time to help others is a true mitzvah.
Betty Seidel is a volunteer at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.