By Jerry Davich
Jerry’s career began in 1995 as a political cartoonist/columnist with The Times of NWI, writing thousands of columns and stories through narrative storytelling, or shining a light on society’s darkest corners, or provoking unpopular conversations.
The elderly woman in a wheelchair closely watched me walk down the hallway of her long-term care facility.
Her head was slumped down. Her hands were buried under a blanket. Her eyes tracked my every step. She didn’t say a word or move a muscle.
I wasn’t sure how to respond to a familiar situation that I’ve encountered dozens of times inside nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. As a kid, these places scared me. They were sad, depressing, and disappointing. I wondered if I’d end up at one when I got old, forgotten by society and ignored by my family.
I didn’t know the elderly woman’s personal situation. Maybe she was not ignored or forgotten. All I knew in that moment was that her body didn’t budge. Only her eyes moved.
“Hello, how are you today?” I asked as I walked past her.
Her head moved ever so slightly. Her eyes met mine. Her mouth turned into a smile.
“Hello,” she said, watching me walk into another resident’s room.
When I left the building, she was no longer in that spot. I returned home and wrote a social media post to my friends, readers, and followers.
“Instead of wasting hours of your life writing social media tirades to strangers you’ll never meet, or ramblings about your day, consider spending a few minutes reaching out to someone who’ll gratefully appreciate your efforts,” I wrote.
|Residents sit on the patio and enjoy the weather at Residences at Deer Creek in Schererville in 2022.|
“Find a sheet of blank paper or an unsent greeting card. Grab one of the dozens of old pens in your kitchen junk drawer. Unearth an envelope and a stamp. And then think of what daily life may be like for too many lonely or forgotten residents at long-term care facilities.
“For many of them, their view of the outside world comes through the same panes of glass through their lonely room or through their television set. Many of these people see no visitors of any kind besides the same workers inside these largely forgotten assisted-care facilities or nursing homes, like this one I just visited. Just a thought.”
My post attracted dozens of comments, such as this one.
“I’m doing this. Last April I inherited hundreds of cards. I could have just as easily tossed them or donated them. I didn’t. Now I have a purpose for them. Thank you Jerry. My Mother in Law will be so happy (smiling down from heaven) to see I’m going to use every one of them.”
Another reader offered a different perspective, from inside one of these facilities.
“I’m a resident at Chesterton Manor and have had two visitors in the year and a half I have been here,” Don Catt wrote. “My wife is here too, and even though her family lives in Merrillville, they have NEVER visited. A letter would be greatly appreciated.”
Jessica Metros, a volunteer coordinator with Indiana Guardianship Services in Porter and LaPorte counties, also reached out to me.
“We serve mostly the elderly who have no voice. They end up through the court system with IGS, which provides protection of their livelihood and personal safety,” she said.
“Our volunteers share one hour per month with their client by visiting with them and checking on their well-being. We have a huge waiting list of people in facilities who have little to no families,” she said.
“The ultimate reward is for our volunteers, and also for our wonderful clients, to know they matter to others. For the 60 minutes per month that our volunteers invest, they receive such phenomenal benefits of making a difference in someone’s life,” she added.
I asked for more information.
Metros, who retired from the business world last May, was made an offer from IGS that she couldn’t refuse — “to receive the priceless benefits of making the difference in the lives of others,” she said.
“Our clients have no one to advocate for them except for IGS,” Metros told me. “Our volunteers become the eyes and ears for our case managers. We train them to embrace the client visits as opportunities to create value in the client’s life.”
The majority of IGS clients are elderly. Many are in wheelchairs. Some are recuperating from strokes. Others are suffering from drug abuse. A few are manic depressive or schizophrenic.
All of them are wards of the court who’ve slipped through the cracks of society. Typically, their families are out of the picture. Or there has been physical abuse with a complete draining of their finances except for Social Security and Medicaid.
“We read to our clients. We bring in treats. We wheel them around the facility. We sing with them. We do their nails. We brush their hair,” Metros said. “We do all we can do to make them feel appreciated and, when possible, provide reassurance of their value as a human being.”
She has already heard from a handful of new volunteers from my social media post. More volunteers are needed. The organization’s next volunteer orientation meeting is Feb. 4 in Valparaiso, and I’ll write a follow-up column on the response. (For more info or to volunteer, call 219-400-0309 or email email@example.com.)
Volunteers are asked to spend just one hour per month with their assigned clients. Think about how much time we spend (waste?) on social media alone every month.
“I believe our services are especially unique because our clients are the voiceless and the forgotten,” Metros said.
this isn’t for you, consider my idea to mail a card or letter to a
stranger with lonely eyes who would welcome it like a personal visit.
Full Article & Source:
JERRY DAVICH: Volunteers needed, compassion requested for Indiana Guardianship Services