Spring break is here and the beaches, camps and road trips are calling. But if you’re staying close to home and looking for a way to fill your time, spring break is the prime opportunity to volunteer. Oklahoma City metro nursing homes offer great learning opportunities for young volunteers.
Grace Living Center in Del City is a nursing home, but it’s often alive with children. Kimberly Lockhart, the social services and activities coordinator, cannot imagine doing her job without them.
“The kids play games with them and do arts and crafts,” Lockhart said. “They sing to them, they read the Bible to them, they paint their nails. They bring them cookies or cupcakes or drawings they have made.”
Some of the young visitors are the grandchildren of residents, “and they share their grandchildren with the others,” Lockhart said. Others are children of employees, or members of school groups, church youth groups or musical troupes.
“It uplifts them. It brightens their day,” said Lockhart, who has worked in nursing homes more than 25 years. “A lot of them don’t get to see their own grandchildren, or they don’t have any. Some of our residents don’t have anyone to come see them.”
One teenage girl was moved to tears by an exchange with a resident a few days before Christmas, Lockhart said.
Members of her church youth group had brought gifts and the girl of about 13 handed a lap blanket to a woman who is estranged from her family and rarely has visitors of her own.
“The resident told her it was the best gift she had ever gotten in her life,” Lockhart said. “Then she said, ‘Can you give me a hug? I would just love to have a hug.’”
The visitor complied, after seeking permission from the staff.
Children who encounter frail and lonely senior citizens often have their eyes opened, Lockhart said, and volunteering with seniors can encourage kids to think more about how they treat others.
Clients at the four Daily Living Centers across the metro love it when families with children come to sing to them or help them find the numbers on their Bingo cards, said Activities Director Traci Lucas. Many need care during the day because they have dementia or are recovering from strokes.
Kids and their parents also can help the seniors with their crayons during color therapy sessions.
“You would be surprised at how much the seniors like to color,” Lucas said.
The Daily Living Center at 3000 N. Rockwell in Bethany has 50 to 60 clients and has the greatest need for volunteers, Lucas said. It’s open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays and 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, so families and youth organizations can help out after school, on Saturdays and during school breaks. Lunchtime assistance is always needed, and Bingo games start at 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
When children visit, “the seniors love it,” Lucas said. “It just makes them smile. A lot of our seniors, their grandchildren are already grown.”
“Any time you can expose children to older generations, it provides such value to them,” said Erin Engelke, chief external relations officer for Sunbeam Family Services. The non-profit agency has a number of senior aid programs, including an emergency shelter for seniors who need short-term housing due to such crisis situations as abuse, self-neglect, exploitation or homelessness caused by mental illness or medical expenses.
Engelke said she took her 12-year-old son along when Thunder players delivered Christmas baskets to the senior shelter.
“One of the shelter residents stopped my son and said ‘I just want to tell you how important it is to obey your mom and dad and to make the right choices,’” Engelke said. The man went on to tell her son that he had not made good choices in his life and that is how he ended up in the shelter.
Lockhart hears seniors at Grace Living Center doling out similar advice to their young visitors.
“They tell them to go to school and make good grades,” Lockhart said. “They tell them they can be whatever they want to be.”
Lockhart said kids have much to gain as they interact with seniors.
“They can learn about the Great Depression, and the world wars, just a whole lot of history,” Lockhart said. “They can learn about life, about their struggles. They fought for things that we have today.”
Some elementary students are helping seniors by allowing themselves to be served by them, Engelke said. About 60 retirees are school mentors through the Sunbeam Family Services foster grandparent program. They spend several hours a day assisting teachers with kids who need academic help or special attention due to discipline issues.
“It truly gives seniors a sense of purpose,” Engelke said.
Here’s where to help with local seniors: