Due to the fact he needs assistance to continue his walking routine, Lori’s Hands has enabled him to not only remain active but also provide him with a form of companionship. This gentleman has Alzheimer’s which is a disease close to my heart.
Each semester, Lori's Hands serves as a field placement site for a group of UD students enrolled in a Community Nutrition course. This week on the blog, student Alexa interviews student Kim regarding her Lori’s Hands experience.
Alexa: Tell us about the client you're visiting this semester, and the support you provide.
Kim: We help Dave, who has ataxia. We prepare and cook his dinner for him and provide companionship 1 night per week.
Alexa: What do you enjoy about the experience?
Kim: When we are on our visits, I enjoy learning about Dave’s ataxia. He has provided several resources for us about his disease, and we've even been reading a book he wrote himself about his experiences!
Alexa: What is the biggest thing you have learned from your Lori’s Hands experience?
Kim: I have learned that despite having a disability you can live a very happy and productive life. Dave proves that positivity and persistence is key to pushing through your limits. He swims a mile almost every day of the week and is always happy and productive when we visit him. He writes his own stories and keeps a positive attitude.
Alexa: Why did you volunteer through Lori’s Hands?
Kim: I am in a community nutrition class that requires volunteer hours related to nutrition. Working with Dave through Lori’s Hands was a way for us to learn more about cooking with a disability, while helping Dave to prepare his meals. Although I was required to volunteer through a class, I wish I had learned about Lori’s Hands sooner during my undergraduate career at UD so that I could have experienced more volunteer hours for their nonprofit.
Alexa: What do you wish you could change about the experience?
Kim: I wish I could volunteer more often and that I learned of Lori’s Hands earlier. We only visit with Dave once a week. I wish I could also volunteer with several clients to learn more about other chronic illnesses and broaden my education beyond nutrition.
This semester, UD Senior Chelsea Adebiyi has been completing a 360-hour field placement with Lori's Hands. We sat down to talk with her about her experiences working with our clients.
LH: Tell me about yourself
CA: My name is Chelsea Adebiyi, and I am a senior Health Behavior Science major; I also have a minor in Public Health. After graduation, I want to become a Pediatrician because I love working with kids and with people in general.
LH: Why did you get involved with Lori’s Hands?
CA: I heard about Lori's Hands my freshman year. It intrigued me but I got involved with other activities and so didn't become a volunteer right away. As I was planning for my senior year internship, I thought of Lori’s Hands as a great opportunity because I love what Lori's Hands does. I love that what we do puts a smile on clients’ faces. It’s awesome how clients talk about Lori's Hands. I don’t think we always realize the impact that we have on clients until we have the chance to talk with clients one on one. I look forward to my regular client visits.
LH: Speaking of your visits, what do you do with Lori’s Hands?
CA: I have several different clients whom I visit on a regular basis. One client is blind; she has aides who help her, but she lacks social support. She is 91 years old, and we visit with her and she talks with us about her life. We have conversations about when she was a child. I love it because she tells us about Presidents from throughout her lifetime – things that I have only read about in history books. She also tells us about the reality of aging and how difficult it can be. I love that we get to be there for her and try to make things more comfortable for her. She lives by herself and doesn’t have family close by, so I know that visits from Lori's Hands volunteers mean a lot to her and provide her with social support she's otherwise lacking.
I also have a client who has MS. She has some difficulties with mobility, but she’s very mentally sharp. Sometimes she asks us to help organize things for her, and other times we play games and sit and talk with her. Another client I visit likes everything to be neat and organized, so this is how I help her when I visit.
My last client I visit every Friday, and I always look forward to seeing her. She’s so vibrant and happy about life – she largely attributes this to Lori’s Hands because we were here for her when her husband passed away and she became sick. When she didn't have many people to turn to, she could rely on Lori's Hands for support.
LH: It sounds like you help Lori's Hands clients in a lot of different ways and have done some very meaningful work. So tell me more about why you care about Lori’s Hands mission.
CA: Now that I’ve visited clients, I see so much more of the impact Lori's Hands has, and the work has become much more important to me. I see how what we do makes a real difference in clients’ lives.
LH: You have worked with clients facing a variety of health challenges. What has this taught you about living with a chronic illness?
CA: I’ve learned that it’s hard but it is more manageable when you have people around who care about you; it helps you not to focus on what’s wrong. You can still have a vibrancy in your life. I have also learned about new ways of adapting to and interacting with people. For example, if someone has limited hearing, I’ve learned how to speak with them so that they can understand me. I have learned that little things can be significant for a client; for example, I always make sure that there are no tripping hazards for my client who is blind, and if I put something in the refrigerator, I need to tell her where it is in the refrigerator. I have learned how to be more personable and relatable; I have learned a lot about empathy.
LH: I imagine those are skills that will be really important as you step into the medical profession. What do you think in particular you’ll carry with you from your Lori's Hands volunteer experience?
CA: I wish I could still volunteer with Lori’s Hands after I graduate. You can’t outgrow Lori’s Hands. If I was going to still live in Delaware, I would still volunteer. Something I will take with me is all of the experiences I have had with clients. The volunteer work I have done has been important; I originally thought I would just be helping people with activities they had difficulty completing themselves, but my experience has been much more significant than that. I have made lasting relationships with the clients, far beyond the volunteer work that I do.
According to the University of Nebraska, service-learning experiences are important for undergraduate health care students. In particular, when students work with older adults, they gain skills and experiences as they engage in intrinsically rewarding service activities. After working with older adults, undergraduates' empathy levels increase and, often, a strong intergenerational companionship develops.
I have definitely developed strong relationships with my older adults clients this summer. During my service learning internship experience with Lori’s Hands, I have made it my goal to make our clients happy and do what ever I can to make their days amazing. I also want to help our clients be aware of their home environments and make their homes safer for them to live in as they age in place. I love working with different clients every day and building great relationships with them.
One of my clients, Ellen*, is married but recently her husband has been admitted into a nursing home. Ellen can no longer provide care for him because he is very ill. On our visits, we help her with grocery shopping, putting away her groceries, and cleaning her kitchen. We also pick up loose papers and items around her living area and put them in safe places that won't put her at risk for a fall. She is always so appreciative of everything we do for her!
Each week, I also visit Edith* to get her groceries. Edith, my volunteer partner Christina, and I discovered that our birthdays are two days apart from each other - we’re all May babies!
I also visit a World War II veteran who looks forward to talking each week, a client living with MS who loves swimming and barbecue sandwiches, and so many other interesting people.
I have loved getting to know our clients this summer and have experienced what the researchers suggested comes from service learning - truly rewarding intergenerational relationships.
Written by: Alyssa Benjamin
Source: Gelfand, Donald E., and James P. Firman. "Developing and Implementing Service-Learning in Aging." University of Nebraska Omaha. Web. 31 May 2016.
*Names changed for privacy