Youth Volunteer Scholarship
Annually, Saint Therese awards two $2,000.00 educational scholarships in recognition of youth volunteers who enrich the lives of seniors.
Youth volunteers between the ages of 15 and 18 (as of January 10, 2020) who have completed a minimum of 20 volunteer hours with one or more seniors by date of submission. Prior applicants who have not yet received a scholarship 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 (relative or non-relative) in a care center or within one's community. Volunteer hours may be spent the following ways: one-on-one visits, doing household chores, raking leaves, shoveling snow, grocery shopping, etc.
I remember a partly cloudy, summer afternoon when I had biked miles to enjoy the sweet, simpler aspects of summertime. The carnival had come to Fridley, Minnesota and I wanted to linger beneath the sun, eat snow cones so slowly the syrup would drip from the cone and onto my hands, eat a funnel cake so oily I could feel my body struggle to digest it and I wanted to play outdoors in the green, aromatic and freshly cut grass with my friends—the grass where we ran, laughed and grew-up on.
As I grew accustomed to the street I was living on, I noticed a building that seemed to stand independent from the mom-and-pop businesses and suburban homes. On Central Avenue and Mississippi Street, The Landmark of Fridley stood juxtaposed by trees and adjacent to a gas station. Bus-10 ran to-and-from Minneapolis along the hill-abundant street and made stops right across from the building.
Returning from the summer carnival, an explicable exhaustion washed over me. Although out-of-breath from playing and eating too many sweetened, fried products, I remember longing for more—to know what exactly the ‘Landmark’ was. I biked from the gravel-rich terrain onto the grass, parked my bicycle and walked into the building, driven by an instinct of interest and wonder. Entering, I was greeted by a second door with a monitor prompting me to “DIAL 100 FOR OFFICE #”. Upon doing so, a click and buzz welcomed me into the air-conditioned lobby. I turned to the main desk and was face-to-face with another prompt— a doorbell— which I pressed. It summoned a woman in scrubs and a gait of urgency.
“Helloooo,” she panted.
“Hi, I was- well I- I’m like interested in what this place is. Is it assisted living?” I questioned nervously despite knowing so from the large poster that always gleamed off the side of the building. “Can I volunteer here?”
“Yes, it is assisted senior living,” she responded. “Here is a card for Jacquie. She coordinates volunteering. Contact her!” The woman spoke while handing me a card.
The contact on that card transformed my summer. Contacting Jacquie a week later, I explained to her my interest in volunteering at the facility. While working alongside Jacquie at activities and events for the residents, I was also trained extensively on dementia and how it
impacts the awareness and understanding of an individual who develops the disease. As I learned more, Jacquie gave me opportunities to work in memory care with women who were afflicted—whether they demonstrated onset symptoms or an accumulation of the confusion, irritability, aimlessness and other qualities that reflected the illness.
Growing more interested in my volunteer work, the boredom I had prepared to face throughout summer soon became more; a weekly commitment to the lives of the residents living within the four walls that stood on Mississippi and Central. There were days I would walk the women along the path beside the road. That path, to them, provided a journey that stood out amidst their usual time spent in the senior living facility.
At times, I witnessed unusual changes in their demeanor. Particularly in memory care, anytime I interacted with the residents, I reflected on a popular phrase: YOLO (You Only Live Once). Although having one life, some stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s made it seem as if their lives were on repeat. They became the women they were in their 20s—some who lived in Minneapolis, up-and-down Lyndale Avenue, some who were born in Iowa and raised on acres of farmland alongside their family, crops and cattle, those who met their husbands during military service, those in ministry and those in the arts. At times they became the girls that played in the park with their siblings, the children who had to pack up and brace for an unknown destiny following the impact of the Great Depression. As they found themselves experiencing the sensations and emotions tied to those periods in their lives, they refuted only living once by feeling once more. And again, and again.
My mother always explained that aspect of her job to me; where residents and patients can phase-in and out of other periods of their lives, but I never really understood. Working as a nurse assistant since 1999, my mother always told me stories about those that she worked with and found herself connecting with throughout her career. Through my volunteering, I finally understood what she meant.
I’ve noticed that to an extent, I lose the tenants not only in status of health but condition of mind. There have been times where I am sitting in Room Five in Memory Care, but the inhabitant is in 1947 waiting to board a plane to Canada. Sometimes I do not know how or why, but all I do know is that I am there with them and there is no place I would rather be. This aspect of summertime, the connection between myself and the mind and state of every individual I worked with, was one aspect I had decided I will never give up on.
The intricacy existing behind the veil of an individual with dementia reminded me of the intricacy established on the corner of the four-way intersection. Every day, through my work as a volunteer, activities assistant, and now health aide pursuing nursing with these individuals, I learn more and more that life in all its stages are sacred and misunderstood— whether it be the condition of feeling as if no one understands you or being in the state of not understanding who and where you are or what you are doing at any given moment.
Through this realization, I know the best way for me to display my concern for those who are afflicted and victims of what dementia does to families and their loved ones, I am determined to become an advocate for individuals who are not able to communicate for themselves what they need and want from the life they have left. It is important that traditional mentalities between societies do not stand in the way of providing patient-centered care- whether it be mental or physical. I hope that with time, educational advances can be made for people who need better understanding of those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. I am determined to petition for the mission against misunderstanding senior citizens directly impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s.
For the last two years, I have volunteered weekly at Arbor Oaks Assisted Living in Andover. Each day I spend there is special, but my favorite experience so far was organizing and hosting the 2018 Senior Citizen Prom with several friends from Andover High School.