2024 Youth Essay Winners:

Grace Olaleye

"I finally understood what people meant by calling someone a ray of sunlight when I first met Orville. I was gravely nervous walking into my first volunteer shift at St.Therese. I had heard that the Technology Help position was always in high demand, and very popular with residents. A million worries filled my mind. What if I wasn’t able to help? What if they didn’t like me? What if I was a downgrade from the last person who held this position? I sat at the black wooden table facing the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out into the hall. People walked past, and I plastered a smile on my face unsure of my place in this building..." Read more

Elly Rowan

"On the second Sunday of each month, the event calendar at The Waters Senior Living Community in Oakdale indicates residents can enjoy Music with Elly in the main gathering space. At 11:00, you can find a group of seniors gathered to listen to me play an hour set of  music. With my acoustic guitar in hand and my amp and microphone turned on, I usually begin with a peppy, “Happy Birthday” song for those who have their special day that month. Many join in the singing with smiles across their faces and toes tapping. I have been visiting The Waters since the summer of 2022, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my gift of music with this community of senior citizens..." Read more

Honoring volunteer service & encouraging intergenerational relationships.

Annually, Saint Therese awards two $2,000.00 educational scholarships in recognition of youth volunteers who enrich the lives of seniors.


2025 contest will open in the Fall of 2024. Be sure to check here for updated information.



Eligibility Criteria

All youth volunteers currently in grades 11 - 12 during the 2023-24 school year and have completed a minimum of 20 volunteer hours with one or more seniors by the date of submission are eligible to apply. Prior year applicants who have not yet received a scholarship award are encouraged to re-apply. Prior recipients are not eligible and will not be considered.

Eligible applicants have spent time impacting the lives of seniors in a care facility, independent or assisted living, a senior day program, or in one’s neighborhood or community. Volunteer hours may be spent the following ways: companionship visits, helping with household chores, raking leaves, shoveling snow, grocery shopping, transportation to appointments, etc.

Eligible applicants must reside in the seven county Minnesota Twin Cities metro area (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, Washington), the Wisconsin counties of Pierce or St. Croix, or the Michigan counties of Monroe or Wayne.


Meet our past Youth Volunteer Scholarship Award Recipients




Hannah Hebert

Connection, Impact, and Learning with Seniors

    Why is human connection so important? Is it our biology or an overarching need to feel a sense of belonging? I believe we crave human interaction because it’s an outlet to share our lives with one another during times of celebration, tribulations, and all that we experience together. 
    During my senior year of high school, I learned that the elderly in my community were feeling disconnected from youth due to a rise in technology use and the physical distance that separated senior citizens from their family members following the Covid-19 Pandemic. To solve this problem, two classmates and I founded a club at the high school called ‘Teen Tech Tutors/Adopt a Grandparent’. We designed this program to bridge generational divides and connect assisted living residents with high school students for technology support and human interaction over the long term. In one week, we had forty residents sign up to be matched with high school students based on personality, hobbies, and technology needs. This was a great success as the youth and elderly in the community came together over shared interests and a thirst for knowledge. After months of hard work and organization, our plan was executed with advertising, gaining approval from the assisted living facility, and collecting names of interested high school students to meet with residents.
    When I first arrived at the assisted living facility, I was nervous to meet the couple I was matched with. However, as soon as I sat down to talk with them, they were very welcoming and kind. She was a very caring woman who smiled at me when I walked into the room with glasses that covered most of her face. While he was a quieter gentleman who preferred to listen rather than speak and held himself with confidence. After getting acquainted and discussing our passions, I realized that the stigma around the elderly being stuck in their ways is false. Senior citizens are more than willing to adapt and connect with youth if there is motivation and resources to do so.
     Once I started talking with my seniors through the ‘Teen Tech Tutors/Adopt a Grandparent’ program, I didn’t want to stop. Their life stories were so interesting, and I was pleased they could share their wisdom and love for their family with me. However, they were struggling with technology as it had become an inhibitor rather than a facilitator for connecting with their grandkids who live out of the state. As a solution, we discovered how to call their family members through facetime on an android phone establishing a virtual connection together. After solving this technology issue, they were overwhelmed with joy as there was a greater possibility of strengthening their relationships and talking with their grandchildren. This experience was very gratifying, as I had positively impacted the lives of seniors through volunteering that will help them facilitate relationships in the future through emotional and technical support. Other teen participants were also positively affected to think about their lives, value their new relationships, and think about the influence technology has on society.
    Volunteering with the elderly was very rewarding, as I do not have any grandparents who live in the state. Therefore, volunteering with a senior impacted me to redefine how I want to live my life through learning from their life experiences. While I taught them how to use technology, they taught me the power of love, how wisdom comes with years, and the importance of family. These conversations encouraged me to reflect on my life and appreciate my family more. On a greater scale, I have involved other teenagers in this program, as I believe that talking to the elderly can teach youth so much about life. Whether that is the importance of listening or how love can prevail through all, senior citizens have so much wisdom to share with youth. This experience has further ignited my desire to pursue a career in nonprofits which would allow me to fulfill my purpose in life and help others on a more global scale. If I am fortunate enough to receive this scholarship, I will use it to accomplish my dream of attending college to pursue a degree in sociology and hopefully run my own non-profit one day.

Thank you for the consideration of my application.


Kayvon Raza

The Positive Impact I Had On a Senior

    “There is a special place for you in heaven young man.” I heard this from a memory care resident after finishing my first magic show at Saint Therese. This sweet comment made me realize the importance of volunteering and furthered my passion towards it. I have been volunteering at the Oxbow Lake facility since I was a kid. I started in elementary school by tagging along with my mother and would help with bingo and other weekly activities. After years away from Saint Therese, I decided to start volunteering again during my junior year of high school. Since then, I have led and helped with a variety of activities including magic shows, cardio drumming, transportation to events, and card games with residents. 
    Over the years, I would like to think that I have had a positive impact on several Saint Therese residents. However, there is one person in particular who stands out. When initially getting back into volunteering, I thought it would be cool to put on magic shows to entertain the residents. I would put on shows each week in different parts of the facility. Not only did my shows bring smiles, but I was often told that I “made everyone’s day,” even the staff. The experience of coming in every week to do magic made me feel as if I was helping boost the overall mood of many of the residents. 
    This is where I first met “Charlie” (name changed for privacy reasons) . He would come to my magic shows every week and would support me with kind comments just like that first memory care resident did. As my schedule freed up during the school year, I let our volunteer coordinator know that I was willing to volunteer more hours each week and expand outside of magic shows. 
    I was told Charlie had been wanting to find a partner to play cards with, so I added that into my schedule. It started out a little rough because I didn’t know any of the older card games he used to play, like Pinochle and Rummy 500. He didn’t remember enough to teach me, so I set out to research and practice the card games in between our visits. Over the months that we would play cards, I learned a lot about Charlie. I noticed that he would always do a variety of mathematical equations to figure out if we laid the cards out correctly. One day I asked about this and he shared with me how he spent most of his life teaching math and how it was pretty much an instinct for him. I also learned why these card games were so important to Charlie. One day he told me that his brother and dad would always play with him before they passed away. This made me realize it was not only about us playing cards, but also about giving Charlie the opportunity to relive his younger days.
    Sadly, right when we were starting to get the hang of the card games, he had an incident which landed him in the hospital and was ultimately unable to continue to play cards with me. This made me reflect and realize how truly important it is to build relationships and spend time with seniors while we still can.
    I wrote a 10-page paper this school year about achieving inner happiness. One of the main points made in this essay highlighted the sheer importance of having regular interaction and good relationships with others. Not only was I able to entertain Charlie with magic shows and play his favorite card games with him, I also think that simply spending time with him had a strong positive impact on his health. I will always remember Charlie. I know the theme of this essay was the positive impact I have had on a senior, but I believe that he has had an equally important impact on me. Thank you for considering me for this scholarship.



Grace S.

Prompt: What have you learned through your experience volunteering with an older adult?

“That’s how David was,” the woman fondly explained, “he always made sure to walk me home.” I had met Jane (an anonymity pseudonym for privacy purposes) a mere fifteen minutes prior to her detailed story about her late husband. As she spoke, her eyes glossed over and she gazed slightly to the left as if she was seeing a memory unfold somewhere within the petals of the gerbera daisies on the wallpaper. Her stories teleported me to a small Iowa town in 1946, and I felt as if I was watching Jane and David fall in love in front of my eyes. In reality, it was 2020 in a memory care facility in Maplewood, Minnesota that I volunteered at regularly to spend time with the residents.

My first day at the memory care facility I played bingo and was assigned to help a woman with a mild form of memory loss: Jane. Her hands were tucked neatly within one another, placed just below the quilted heart on her sweater. She sat elegantly with both feet on the floor, but was visibly suffering the grip of Age. She smiled at me and welcomed me at the place next to her, and we exchanged formalities. She wore a beautiful gold ring, and when I asked her about it her eyes lit up as if she had been waiting for me to mention it. “It was a gift from my husband,” she explained warmly. She struggled to remember my name, but when she talked about David her speech was clear and stories detailed. “My favorite thing about him,” she said as she admired her ring, “was that he always made sure to walk me home.” She repeated this line multiple times a session, and I always wondered of its significance.

Weeks would go by and I would talk to Jane every time I went there. We shared stories about when we learned to drive and exchanged laughs when she would poke fun at the nuns at her primary school. Most days, Jane and I neglected to pay attention to the bingo numbers being called and lost ourselves in the stories we would share. Her voice was smooth, and she had the power to take me into her memories. I stood on the dock when David came home from the Navy and sat in the pews of Saint Jerome Church as they got married. I was there when she mourned the loss of her only child, and I observed as she found a new love in painting. As time went on, I noticed that her memory began to slip. She would forget simple phrases and repeat herself more. That is when I found out she had very little time left to live.

The last time I saw her, she grabbed my hand and looked me in the eyes. It felt like a montage at the end of a movie. Her stories flashed before me as she softly said, “thank you for walking me home.” Tears welled in my eyes as I realized I had been her escape. I was her new David. That is when I understood what she meant. David did not just walk her to her physical, tangible home. He helped her find who she always wanted to be. I remembered her telling me about how she had lost herself after the death of her child. With righteous anger but gentle acceptance she said that David “brought her back.”

 He brought her home.

 Since that day, I have continued to volunteer with the elderly, and have made a myriad of meaningful connections. Jane inspired me to continue on the path of helping the elderly, and helped me come to the indomitable resolution that I want to be a nurse. Because of her, I have an intimate appreciation for loving support and subsequently strive to make my presence one that emanates compassion. As a nurse, I want to be a guiding light on the path of others as they find who they were meant to be and learn to love life again. I will walk others home. I want to show others that life is beautiful, no matter the circumstance, and hold them in their most terrible pains.

 And that’s how Jane was. A woman with unparalleled and unconditional love who, with her hand in mine, taught me how to love as well. She helped me find who I was meant to be. She walked me home.

Hallie S.

Ever since I was small, I have always visited nursing homes to see my mom, who is a nurse. My dad would swing us by, dropping off a coffee for her, and she would take me around to meet her patients. I remember their smiling faces, and them reaching out to shake my small hand. In the beginning, I recall being shy and quiet, but as I grew older, I became more social and would happily chat with the residents. This was really beneficial to shaping me as a person, as it helped me become comfortable around adults, leading me to be confident when talking with authority figures and others older than me.

In eighth grade, I was given the assignment of doing a capstone project, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do. After meeting so many of my mom’s patients, I was extremely comfortable in the setting of a nursing home, and I greatly enjoyed interacting with them when I visited. I remembered how it felt when I saw their faces light up as my mom introduced me to them, and then asking me numerous questions on school, activities, or about what I was interested in. I knew that for my capstone I wanted to talk about the effect volunteering and socialization has on seniors. One statistic that stuck out to me the most was from a study where it discovered that lonely seniors were 50% more likely to develop dementia. This quote stuck with me ever since. There are also increases in mortality from heart disease and strokes that are caused by the same social isolation. This further helped solidify my desire to volunteer with seniors at St. Therese. However right when I was preparing to apply as a volunteer, covid hit. My class was unable to complete our capstone projects, and many rejoiced over it being canceled. However, I was upset that covid had ruined our plans. My great aunt was supposed to volunteer with me as my chaperone, and not only was I excited to spend more time with her, I was also looking forward to meeting and talking to seniors. Luckily, I had an opportunity again to apply in the fall of 2021.

On Thursdays, my school lets out an hour earlier, and while many were unsure how to spend their time, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I applied to volunteer in the residential beauty salon. I helped the head beautician by helping bring residents down to the salon, doing the laundry, and helping decorate for the various holidays. However, the most nerve-wracking job for me was calling the residents to remind them of their appointments. As tech-savvy as my generation is, calling others on the phone is not something most of us have much practice outside of friends and family. The first time I called someone, I was extremely nervous, and stumbled over my words. Luckily, as time went on, I got more practice, and learned to speak up so they can hear me better. However, my favorite job was going and walking with the residents down to the salon. At first I was a little shy, and didn’t know what to say, but thankfully the holidays were approaching. The week before Thanksgiving, I asked for people’s favorite pies to eat, and many answers surprised me! While there were the expected answers of pumpkin and apple, there were also mentions of rhubarb and pecan. One lady excitedly told me about how her great grandson was coming over, and they were going to bake an apple pie together. Another mentioned how she had always tried to replicate her mother’s pecan pie recipe, but never quite got it. When I left that afternoon, I thought about all the stories I heard throughout the day, and thought back on their answers as I ate my pie of choice at Thanksgiving dinner. The week before Christmas led to some interesting conversations as well. I learned of many different traditions and meals. I heard about favorite holiday sweaters and old decorations passed down throughout the family. As the weeks went by afterwards, I could feel both the usual residents going to their appointments and I warming up to each other, and I now remember them by name. Volunteering has made me feel like I belong. The smiles and nods from residents as I pass brightens my day, and I think about my experience for the day when going home, already missing going and picking up the towels from the dryer, or walking someone back to their apartment.

In conclusion, volunteering with seniors is something I think more people should do. Every Thursday, I looked forward to going to St. Therese and helping in the salon. With my help picking up the residents, it saves the beautician time she can use to make sure their appointments are enjoyable, without having to worry about needing to go escort someone. For many of the residents, going to get their haircut and washed might be the highlight of their week. As Andie MacDowell says, “Talking to your hairdresser is almost like talking to your therapist.”. When you visit the salon, it is important to feel at ease, and you can almost feel your worries disappearing as your hair gets transformed into something new. A large sentiment amongst my generation is our fear of talking to authority and adults, and I definitely feel that volunteering with seniors can help with that. When talking to them, I learned new ways of having conversations, creating a large arsenal of topics to talk about. One thing I think is important about volunteering is the exposure you have to many different types of people. For instance, over the summer, I volunteered as a camp counselor and worked with third and fourth graders. The conversations I had with them were extremely different from the conversations I might have with my friends, which differ from the conversations I had with the seniors. The ability to be comfortable talking to a wide variety of people is an extremely impactful skill, as it helps connect you to others around you. Volunteering with seniors has shown me that, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities, life skills and lessons that have been offered to me through this program.