Before volunteering in a nursing home, I often wondered why people would choose such an environment to volunteer. For me and my son Joshua, our volunteering efforts began with his bar mitzvah. He was looking for some type of giving-back project and, through a series of coincidences, we ended up meeting Barry Berman and Steve Saling of the Leonard Florence Center for Living. We became volunteers at the Center the very next week. That was more than six years ago.

Essentially, volunteering is about becoming inspired to help someone or something for a particular reason. For us, we had a prior connection to ALS, so it made sense that we wanted to get involved with the ALS residence at the Leonard Florence Center for Living.

It was a bit awkward at first. We had a huge learning curve to overcome as we became familiar with new residents, their diseases and how best to help them. We soon learned a very important fact: these residents were people — just like us. Over time, we came to the realization that giving yourself doesn’t require big grandiose gestures, but more often than not, the smallest acts meant the most to people. Sitting and talking, holding a hand, asking about one’s day, opening mail, organizing files, or even just straightening up an area of the room were a huge help to the residents. As minimal as these efforts seemed to us, we soon realized these small gestures had the biggest impact. Residents with ALS have the same cognitive abilities as you and me, but their muscles stop working, so their ability to move, eat, and sometimes even breathe are compromised. That’s where volunteers can really make a difference. It’s not that these individuals don’t want to pick up that piece of mail that has fallen on the floor; they simply can’t. These small acts mean the world to a resident.

After weeks of volunteering, our visits to the Center began to feel more like going “home.” In fact, we looked forward to seeing the residents — we laughed, enjoyed each other’s company, watched movies, and participated in activities such as decorating gingerbread houses. We even read the paper together. In all of our time spent with the ALS residents, there was not one single time that my son and I did not feel like a million bucks. No matter how tired or cranky we may have been when we first arrived, we left each day with a full heart. Volunteering, plain and simple, is good for the heart and the soul.

Today, as the Director of Activities at the very Center I used to volunteer for, I am fortunate to be able to rely on the kindness and generosity of my volunteers. They are instrumental in maintaining a high level of programming, which I believe is so essential to the well-being of our residents. Without the commitment from these wonderful people, I would not have the extra hands needed to run some of our most popular events!

I look at the volunteers who have been with the Center since I started working here, and I marvel at their commitment to our residents.  When I ask them why they do it, they usually just smile and say it’s a nice thing to do for people who need kindness the most. They enjoy the environment and love being a part of something bigger than themselves. If only more people in the world understood the power of volunteering, the world would be a much nicer place.

If you are interested in volunteering or learning more about our Volunteer Program at the Leonard Florence Center for Living, please contact Sharon Loveridge at sloveridge@chelseajewish.org.

This blog is courtesy of Sharon Loveridge, director of activities at the Leonard Florence Center for Living.

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