Google Valentine’s Day and a plethora of information is displayed. There’s quite the history for that middle of the month day when loving sentiments are shared. The genuine romantics need no designated time to show affection. They are comfortable with varied expressions of love. Other folks, who struggle to articulate feelings of affection, feel more comfortable with Hallmark cards, decorated candies and flowers on February 14 to share their feelings. Valentine greetings are appropriate for all, and given their universal appeal, I’d like to give a heartfelt Valentine to all the special seniors in my life.
Nearly 14 years ago I began working at Peoria’s Neighborhood House, a social service agency. My reasons for seeking employment were not totally altruistic. I especially liked the idea of working in an environment where helping others was primary, and adding to my retirement savings was appealing. My initial title was Senior Advisor, but after meeting the women and men who were involved in many endeavors, I wasn’t sure who would be advising whom. It turns out we learned from each other.
Folks have been going to Neighborhood House since 1896. Stories abound about Mom or Grandma going there, and the details are heartwarming. Senior activities included quilting, making pads for those confined to a wheelchair or bed, outings to community theater events or a restaurant, playing cards, volunteering in-house and more. For every joy involved in working with such good folks, the downside is poor health and death cause the absence of many, and it’s a situation minus solutions.
Funding sources measure outcomes as a way of determining financial assistance. It’s difficult to measure the value of having a place to go and friends to see, particularly after experiencing the death of a spouse or loved one. Grief therapy is not always visible. Or trying to count the health benefits of sharing a meal together with friends or the value of getting together at a holiday luncheon and taking home door prizes. How can friendship, acceptance and respect be accurately measured?
It was my pleasure to visit with these dear seniors for five years. I was invited to birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, and they confided in me and asked advice for their friends or themselves. I arranged entertainment, health checks, and presentations on issues pertinent to their age and situation. And sadly I attended numerous funerals for people whom I used to interact with in myriad ways.
Many seniors were not expressive with words, but they were eloquent with their talents and affection. I knew details about their lives: where they went to church, their family, and some of their challenges. One senior, Elizabeth, knitted a hat for me, and the bed in my guest room is covered with a beautiful quilt handmade by the quilters.
Providing social programming for residents at Southside Manor was also part of my job, particularly for the last eight years. We shared meals and outings together and I helped them recognize the joy of social interaction with its laughter and friendships. If it was a holiday, even National Dessert Day, we celebrated it. We went to the movies, on “sightseeing” drives throughout Peoria, and to the park in sunny weather.
Last October my job was abruptly eliminated. Change is something everyone must deal with, and I had learned ways of adapting from “my” seniors. Growing older gracefully was modeled many times, and I am forever grateful for the wisdom, laughter and affection shared with me. A job has varied facets to it; thankfully mine included wonderful people, moments, and memories to cherish.