When I heard about working for Little Brother’s- Friends of the Elderly, I was very anxious and unsure how I would be able to help elders. When I talked with my supervisor before accepting the offer, she told me that sometimes it’s not about what we may or may not be able to do, but it’s about sitting at the table and having a conversation. Throughout this internship, I have since discovered just what a profound impact a simple hello can have on an elderly person. An example of how my attitude changed was when I visited a City Site at the Patricia White Apartments.
LBFE has a great program called City Sites where staff and volunteers go to complexes throughout the Boston area and engage residents in activities such as coloring, playing games, and just having a simple conversation. I had the opportunity to participate in this program while interning for Little Brothers, and it’s been a real eye opening experience for me. At first, I thought that playing games like Uno, bingo, and coloring were for little children and thought this would be extremely boring. On my first day when I went to Patricia White, we were playing Uno, and I was inwardly frustrated because the volunteers had to constantly work on explaining to the residents how to play the game, and in turn, the residents were making up their own rules. The more I came to Patricia White, I became familiar with how to deal with the residents, and I realized that no matter what we do to try to explain a game or an activity, they are going to make up their own rules. The older we get, the more set in our ways we become. I was still feeling like I wasn’t doing much for the residents at Patricia White until one of the residents gave me a hug. I wasn’t able to be at the complex one Wednesday afternoon, and when this woman saw me, she said she wanted to give me a hug because she missed me. It was at that moment my attitude of helping elders changed, and I realized that even if I wasn’t participating in an activity, the fact that I was there talking with the residents was a huge benefit for them. It made me feel that I was contributing something, and my presence was getting noticed. That’s what my supervisor was trying to convey, and that’s what LBFE is all about.
I got the sad news that due to some construction that is going on among some other things, I wasn’t going to go to Patricia White during my last two weeks. I was really sad because in the amount of time I was there, I got to really enjoy the residents, and I had a good time talking with them, and just being a friendly face for them, and to find out so suddenly that I wasn’t going back there made me sad. Patricia White was a challenge because of how stubborn some of the residents could be, but I quickly got used to it and really felt my contributions meant something to them. The residents were always excited to see that we were coming and always enjoyed our company. It was nice the last day we were there because we all got a group photo before leaving the complex. I felt really bad about leaving because if I knew sooner that it was going to be my last day working at Patricia White last week, I would have tried to make it the week before so that I could have time to tell the residents that I was leaving.
I can’t believe that my time at LBFE is at an end. I’ve made a lot of friends, both among the LBFE staff as well as elders, and this internship was a new experience for me. There was a lot more community based interactions than working in an office for most of the time, which I really liked. Each City Site had a different atmosphere, and the more comfortable the residents and I got with each other, the more it became like just an ordinary day with good family and friends where we are sitting around the table playing games, laughing, or talking about current events. I’m going to miss everyone who I’ve gotten the chance to work with but it’s not goodbye. We will say see you later because I can check the LBFE calendar, which has all the City Sites on there. Since I go to school at UMass Boston, I can go to any City Site and participate in an activity.
I love this internship because when people see me out in public walking around with my Little Brothers tote bag, or as soon as I mention I intern with them, people always compliment me. They say they are proud of me, and they want to thank me for my services. I’ve never received compliments like that before, so that’s another thing that makes me feel appreciated and like I’m making a difference in the lives of the elderly. This has been a great opportunity, and now, I’m confident that if this opportunity came up again, I would take it in a heartbeat. For those individuals who feel they can’t work with the elderly, as I thought, I will tell anyone that if I can do it, so can anyone else. It just takes a bit of patience, and a happy personality, and that’s all they really need to get them through a few hours.
Debbie Steen completed her 120 hour internship through the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind with LBFE. She facilitated and supported over 37 activities from the Fenway to the South End to Brighton and Dorchester.