Student Volunteer Stories
The stories below are a small sample of the thousands of heart-to-heart visits made by our team of 60-90 UCSB volunteer interns each year.
Their compassionate listening reduces distress and restores well-being for 800 frail seniors in local nursing homes—50% of whom have no other visitors.
Simon Fox presents five Service-learning students.
The difference between volunteering and service-learning is the ongoing reflection and coaching that builds advanced skills. By reflecting on their visits in writing, or on-camera, and getting feedback, AiC volunteer interns continually improve their emotional maturity, communication skill, and capacity for compassion. Here are excerpts from student journals and interviews, written or filmed after their rounds. It is perhaps the best evidence of how the Adventures in Caring program is changing lives.
In Their Own Words:
Our Power to Uplift
One of the people I visited today was telling me stories of his life during the war, which included his passion for singing and music. He told me, “I think my mind is so strong because of all the songs I had to memorize. But it makes me feel out of place here, where most people have dementia or Alzheimer’s.” He began to cry, so I reached out, held his hand, and comforted him. Soon enough, he became more cheerful and recalled a funny story about him singing. This reminded me of the power we humans have in healing each other and lifting each other up. It’s a power I’ve learned through this program not to take for granted.
Beyond My Comfort Zone
At first, I wasn’t really sure if she wanted to talk to me. I took a chance though and sat down next to her. Mary is very soft spoken, and it was a challenge to find the right questions that might give her the chance to open up.
Every now and then I’d find a small clue to latch onto and ask her more about. She told me how she was double-jointed, just like her father, and went on to describe a picture of him when he came to America from Sweden—with his leg lifted all the way up to his shoulder! I asked her if she had ever been to Sweden and she told me some amazing stories about her visits there.
Most of our conversation, however, was difficult for me. She kept saying, “I don’t do anything all day. I have no energy. The days just drag on and on. All I do is sit and sleep, and wait for the next meal.”
It was heartbreaking to see the sadness in her eyes. I found it so difficult to find any words that could bring her peace. I recently learned that no empathetic words of advice begin with “at least…” So I steered away from that. I didn’t try to give her advice. I didn’t try to pretend I could even imagine how difficult it was for her. Instead, I did all that I felt I could: I listened.
I asked her about things that might bring her some happiness, and looking back on it I realized this worked. By the end of the visit, she had said a few times that she was so very lucky: “I’ve lived a full life, with a beautiful family, and I’ve had so many wonderful experiences traveling the world I couldn’t even pick a favorite place if you asked me!”
This was such a challenging conversation, but I could tell she appreciated having someone to talk with. Even though it was difficult, this visit pushed me to grow and learn how to be a source of comfort in an emotional conversation.
Today was the hardest visit I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, it started off full of games and laughs. I helped Sue organize a bingo game in French. Every month, there is a themed week and for this month it was French. There were about ten of us playing and I met a lot of new residents. One resident, Yula, was all the way from the Ukraine. She had lived all over Europe, and then in Canada, before moving to California. I asked her favorite place to live and she said, “California!”
While the game continued, I heard two of the residents talking about how Don had passed away last night. My heart dropped as soon as I heard those words. I immediately turned to Sue and asked her if it was true. She said, “Yes, Don passed away yesterday in his room after lunch.” I could not fathom what was happening. I had just spoken with Don and we were laughing and joking at his favorite lunch table where he always sits. Don was 89 years old, but he seemed a lot younger than that. He could walk around without assistance and he was always aware of his surroundings, so to be told that he passed away was a shock. I am going to miss Don, and his jokes and the laughter he brought into my life , dearly. I hope he rests in peace and his family finds the strength to get through this difficult time.
After hearing this news, it was hard for me to be upbeat and play games, so I excused myself and made a visit to Julia. She never fails to put me back in a good mood. I will always hold Don in my heart, and I k now everyone at Heritage House will miss him dearly.
Mrs. R. used to be very sassy towards me, but she has slowly become one of the sweetest residents I see. She is always interested in what I’m doing at Casa Dorinda and what I do while I’m there. We talk about my goal of becoming a PA and she is so supportive. She thinks being a Raggedy is such good experience. It’s interesting to have this kind of conversation with a resident. It is one of those moments that makes you really proud to be a Raggedy.
I made sure to see Dr. H. last and we had a great conversation. He has an amazing memory and we talked about his childhood and family. It made him so happy. His long-forgotten memories resurfaced as we spoke. He also expressed interest in my career aspirations, and my journey to get there, so I like to run my plans by him. His support means a lot. He was a real legend in the healthcare field, so he is an awesome resource and a wealth of information and stories.
As I spent time getting to know the residents this weekend, I felt that they were now wanting to get to know me. This made it a different experience. I can tell that these are real friendships we’re creating and this has really transformed my experience as a Raggedy.
Today was my last day volunteering at The Samarkand. The four-hour trip completed my 50- hour commitment, and now I can begin to carve out enough time to survive finals week. This was certainly the most rewarding visit I have had. I stumbled upon a resident I hadn’t seen for awhile (she had been moved to a new room). I was excited to see her and we talked for over two hours. The conversation was hilarious, fulfilling, and thoroughly meaningful.
I appreciated her company and she mine. When I said goodbye, she gave me a hug. Then I made rounds and said goodbye to my friends, those I had not seen earlier. My last memory of The Samarkand was waving goodbye to the nicest, funniest, and most gentle-spirited resident I have had the privilege to encounter this past year. When I was walking away I flashed him a peace sign, and he, grinning, flashed one back.It was an honor to be a Raggedy. I was able to befriend many residents at The Samarkand, and their stories will always stay with me.
I almost forgot to go volunteer today. Life has been so stressful lately and I didn’t feel like making the effort, but I had to go because it was my last day volunteering here and I couldn’t bear to leave without saying goodbye.
There were so many moments when I had to keep myself from crying. So many of the residents were sad to see me go but also said how they are so proud of me and know I will do great things. It’s hard being there for all these people for such a long time and now having to say goodbye. I love and will miss them all!
I will look back on this part of my life with the fondest of memories. It has honestly been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. This program has taught me so much and helped me to truly grow as a person. —Clarice Douille
The Beauty of Humankind
Keith always waits for me at the door. But before I could talk to him, his friend came over, very eager to show me something. It turns out, there was a big scandal going on at the home. A lot of the residents were missing their belongings.
So, Keith’s friend had taken the initiative to hide Keith’s precious iPad, to keep it safe from whoever was stealing things, and he wanted to show me where it was.
Then we went back to see Keith, and his friend said, “I really like this guy. I would do anything for him.” This hit me, deep in the heart, because sometimes I go into the facility and I see residents who just sit there and do the same thing all day every day. I feel bad for them. But the fact that some are still able to make friends and look out for each other showed me the beauty of humankind.
Their discussion continued on and Keith’s friendwent into detail about his life; how he got in a motorcycle accident when he was 14 and was in a coma for nearly two years of his life because of it. I’m astounded by how crazy some of these resident’s lives have been. It truly was an honor to have him open up to me and talk about something so personal.
As the conversation developed, Keith jumped in a couple of times and said something self -deprecating, but his friend said, “Stop being so negative. You’re one of God’s children and you’ve been put on earth to have a good life, not to suffer.”
Keith really listened. I could tell how much his neighbor lifted his spirits. Keith’s friend truly inspired me to be as kind to others as possible throughout my life, no matter how hard my life may get, because I have the ability to help others around me.I left the facility this day feeling that tremendous amount of wisdom and kindness had been put into my life. Keith’s friend is a person I aspire to become like . It was beautiful to watch their interaction. I could not have learned such a lesson without being a part of this program.
The Medicine of a Meaningful Relationship
It’s great visiting the people at Valle Verde. I’m grateful I could go to the same residence throughout the whole year. I’ve gotten to develop relationships with these people. It is so rewarding when they remember me and we get into deeper conversations. One conversation that really stood out to me was with Jeremy.
He has been at Valle Verde for a long time, but I hadn’t spent too much time one-to-one with him. Today, he opened up to me and told me, “I feel really alone in here.” A lot of people there have some sort of dementia. I have had many conversations that start over every five minutes. Jeremy doesn’t have this problem and he feels alone because he can’t make a meaningful connection with the other residents.
We had a great time. He felt less alone and more listened to. And then he asked me to join him at bingo. We had fun there too.