Let’s Volunteer – For You From The Friends Life Care Team
The previous post in this series gave useful tips to putting on a virtual party. We hope it was helpful and you well on your way to planning a fun virtual celebration. This blog post is also about helping. This time, the help comes in the form of volunteering. And, as you will read in the post, the volunteer effort had an added benefit of providing a tribute to a beloved grandfather.
About Grandfather Jack
My grandfather, Jack, was the most special person I’ve ever had the privilege to know.
He and I were the best of friends. We would sit and talk for hours, enjoy good food together, and share books and secrets. Our time together was something we both enjoyed greatly but I saw how immensely important this time became to him after he lost his driver’s license and became more isolated. This always stuck with me, how important a little bit of connection can be in a day that so void of relation.
It was very important to my grandfather to age in place. So our family worked hard to make that a possibility. As he aged, the family would assist with transportation, grocery shopping, technology and socialization opportunities. My grandfather was so grateful; but sometimes, as we were offering him help, he would glance at the floor with a despondent look and a tear forming in his eye and ask “what happens to the older people who are alone?”. He became very fixated on this idea. He knew how important help could be to the aging community, and he worried about seniors who did not have this support.
My grandfather passed away in January, 2019 at 96 years old. However, he left something very important behind. That was all the lessons he instilled in me — lessons about kindness, about love, and about service to others.
Jack’s Pals – The Idea
When the COVID pandemic started, I couldn’t help but think of isolated seniors in nursing facilities. I remembered my grandfather asking me, “what happens to the older people who are alone?”. And I remembered how valuable connection was to him…how it lit up his day. I was inspired to do something, and quickly. I reached out to a good friend who serves as an Activities Director at a nursing home in Bucks County. I presented him with my idea. Jack’s Pals, named after my grandfather, would be a pen pal program designed to connect isolated residents at the facility with members in the community. My friend was thrilled about the idea. Then we got started right away.
Within just a few weeks, I had nearly 70 volunteers. I was blown away by the interest in the program and excited about the many different volunteers.
Jack’s Pals has volunteers from different states and even countries! The organization is made up of all ages: from seniors in the community to school children. College students and medical students write letters each week for Jack’s Pals.
The residents at the facility love receiving their mail. They look forward not only to the letters but to pictures their pen pals include which are of pets, delicious food, past travels or coloring pages from the school kids. The back and forth between resident and volunteer is heartwarming. Both look forward to writing and receiving each week.
In so much darkness, Jack’s Pals has been a bright, shining light reminding me that people are good and that people want to do good.
Pulling Together & Helping Others
Results of this volunteer effort were more than could be expected. So many volunteers joined that Jack’s Pals reached capacity. Grandfather Jack would have been proud. The effort received local attention on Patch and was mentioned in a New York Times story. You can read more about Jack’s Pals in these articles and learn about other volunteer efforts with a similar goal.
With the lock-down easing and a shift across Pennsylvania from “Red” to “Yellow”, the need for this outreach is also easing. What will never change is the amazing impact that we can all make in challenging times by pulling together and helping each other.
Katie Starrantino, LCSW, M.Ed, CDP
Wellness & Care Coordinator
Katie has been working in the medical field for 10 years. During this time she has assisted in meeting the psychosocial needs of individuals living with cancer, rehabilitation patients, nursing home residents, primary care patients and individuals with a dementia diagnosis. She is a licensed clinical social worker who holds a masters degree in social work from West Chester University, a masters degree in human sexuality from Widener University, and she is a certified dementia practitioner.
Katie enjoys forming relationships with her members and assisting to keep them happy and healthy.
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