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Words of Reflection

For my fifth and final post for this blog, Adopt a Grandma, I would like to provide some sort of closure regarding the project, its aims, and its successes. To do so, I have interviewed two of my teammates inquiring about their favorite memories from the course of the project and the greatest life lessons that they will take away.

First, I spoke with Emily.

Upon being asked about her fondest memory, Emily told the tale of when we encountered an angry woman of Elmcroft who definitely spoke what was on her mind. On one specific day, she seemed to be particularly upset about something, and she spoke of how she hated everyone in the home. Emily continued to explain that she could relate to the woman, because at the time her life, she was going through some emotional turmoil. She understood where the woman was coming from because she sometimes felt the same way, except she kept her feelings to herself. Emily reported she could empathize with the woman and that she could imagine that difficulties that might be tied to living in a group home- especially if it feels as if everyone around you is doing better than you are.

Emily said that her greatest takeaway from the project was to never give up when teamwork gets difficult. Throughout the course of the project, we have struggled with some internal conflicts that we needed to overcome. She feels that the benefits of the project definitely outweigh the work that we commit to make it possible. Though we may be struggling to keep the project’s mission moving at the moment, Emily believes that we will get back on our feet and configure solutions to our complications in no time.

Next, I asked Ava the same questions.

She explained that her favorite memory was the day that she and Emily started working with Marge to create the facility’s library. Up until that day, Marge had been generally reserved and quiet. Once Marge reached out to them, however, they were able to hear about her life’s passions propelled by her history as a librarian, as well as the work that she had laid before her to help others learn. Marge inspired Ava to consider how she wants to steer her own life in order to give unto others while simultaneously satisfying her own needs.

From the project, Ava reports that she learned the importance of reaching out to others. We found it to be very time-consuming to visit Elmcroft as frequently as we had initially planned. Though it was sometimes difficult to find the motivation to visit the women, it was always worth it. Ava said that she always felt happier leaving the home in comparison to when she woke up that particular morning and thought about the daunting pile of homework that awaited her attention. However, taking a few hours out of the day to dedicate to the lives of others made her heart swell with fulfillment.

This feedback is just a snippet of a snapshot of the meaning of our project. As a team, we have learned a lot and feel like we helped a lot as well.

“All our relationships are person-to-person. They involve people seeing, hearing, touching, and speaking to each other; they involve sharing goods; and they involve moral values like generosity and compassion.” ~Brendan Myers

A Snowy Excursion

Before departing for spring break, my group and I visited the assisted living home, since we wouldn’t be there for two weekends in a row. It was a tad snowy, and the roads weren’t great, but we knew that we needed to be there for the women of the home. Whenever we can’t make it to visit them and spend some quality time with them, they miss us and ask about us. Sometimes they even worry that we may not be coming back. Of course, we don’t want to cause them this kind of stress, so we try to stay as committed to visiting as regularly as possible.

We ordered our Uber and began our venture to Elmcroft. As soon as we walked into the assisted living home, the receptionist in the front lobby greeted us with a vibrant smile as she always does. She guided us to the heart of the home where the group living rooms and lounges were. We then went our separate ways- some visiting individual women and some ready to continue working on the establishment of the library.

To my pleasant surprise, Marge (whom I mentioned in an earlier blog post) was back from the hospital and comfortably in her room at Elmcroft. Once she saw us, her face lit up and we got immediately to organizing the books. I noticed how invested and passionate Marge is about the library project in the home. At first I thought it to be a little silly… after all, we’re just separating books, labeling them, and filing them onto shelves, but to Marge, it’s more than that. The establishment of a solid library right outside her living space made her reminisce about her days working as a librarian, serving the community and avid book readers.

Also, Marge’s daughter was visiting her, so we were able to interact with her, and she’s actually quite funny! She showed us videos of her dog on her cell phone, and we spent the afternoon relishing in quality human interaction. It made me happy to see that Marge’s family was still involved in her life. Oftentimes when people are moved into assisted living facilities or nursing homes, their families either lose interest in taking the time to visit their family members or they live too far away to visit regularly. I could tell that Marge and her daughter still maintained a steady relationship.

After we wrapped up our goodbyes to the women, we lingered about the lobby waiting for our ride to arrive. A woman whom I had never seen before was sitting in a comfy looking chair and flipping through a magazine. She looked like she was in her seventies. I didn’t want to bother her, but I noticed that she had been looking up occasionally from her reading, so my friends and I engaged in a conversation with her. She asked us all what we were studying in school and seemed amazed at the bounty of opportunities that we have today education-wise. She mentioned that when she and her female friends were applying to colleges, they each flipped a coin. If it landed on heads, the individual would be a teacher, and if it landed on tails, a nurse. This idea simply fascinated me. Far too often, we take what’s given to us for granted. Stories like this one are the reason why I think The Memory Initiative’s mission is so important. 

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” ~William Arthur Ward

An Enthusiastic Greeting

This week, I’d like to share the story of the first time I ever visited Elmcroft on behalf of The Memory Initiative. If you’re new to this blog, please read about the background of The Memory Initiative before jumping into this post!

On my first ever trip to Elmcroft, I was accompanied by Natalie and Alice. We were meeting with Elmcroft’s activity director. Our goal was to tell her all about the mission of The Memory Initiative and how we wanted to establish a relationship with Elmcroft. Alice had priorly spoken to her on the phone and reported that she sounded beyond exuberant to meet us. Although we got the sense that she was an amicable woman, we were still a bit nervous walking through the doors, because we needed this partnership to go well in order for us to begin progressing our mission.

As soon as Elizabeth saw us waiting in the lobby, a vibrant smile flashed across her face. She greeted us with words of excitement and led us back to her quaintly decorated workspace. Once we gave her a thorough overview of what we’d like to implement within the assisted living facility, she jumped right on board. Being that she knew the residents of Elmcroft inside and out, she was able to work with us to refine our approach, making it dynamic and most likely to impact the women effectively.

Following our logistical and planning meeting, Elizabeth proceeded to give us a tour of Elmcroft. One of the embedded projects within the home is called “Second Wind Dreams,” which aims to make some of the resident’s dreams come true. It is similar to the Make A Wish Foundation, which does the same for children. One of the walls in the main group living room is covered in framed photos from events that brought a resident’s dream to life. Seeing the beaming smiles and discernible joy in the scenes of the photos was heart-warming and brought a sense of lightness to our project, which can sometimes be weighed down by the heavy challenges it aspires to tackle.

Elizabeth showed us many of the shared rooms in the facility, like the dining room, the activity room, the music room, and the garden room that looks out onto the home’s patio where residents grow plants and enjoy the beauty of nature. As we made our way through the multiple areas of Elmcroft, I noticed that Elizabeth made it a point to greet each and every resident she passed. They shared genuine conversation, and the residents’ love for her truly became clear.

Natalie, Alice, and me after meeting with Elizabeth

Far too often, employees in group living homes or similar facilities become so immersed in their employment responsibilities that they forget they are working with people. People all have feelings, and Elizabeth was sure to make the residents aware that their feelings are important, valid, and heard. Although the residents often lacked energy, Elizabeth made sure that she always radiated it. Natalie, Alice, and I became cognizant that if we were going to be visiting Elmcroft every week, we needed to emit as much energy and authentic care as Elizabeth to make the most of our mission. I’m glad to say that we were (and still are) up for the challenge.

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” ~Henry Ford

Perpetuating Passions: The Library Project

A few weeks ago while my friends and I were visiting Elmcroft on a Sunday afternoon, we were introduced to a new service opportunity within the assisted living facility community.  If you are new to this blog and unfamiliar with The Memory Initiative, please click here to read about the project’s inception and its goals before continuing to read on (or else it won’t make much sense!)

On that Sunday, we discovered that one of the women in the assisted living facility, Marge, used to be a librarian. She loved what she did as her career for many years, and she carries her passion with her still today.

When my teammates and I were in the process of designing The Memory Initiative, an important guiding force were our passions. As a result, we all recognize the important role that passion plays in our lives and how it influences what we do each day. Thus, when Marge expressed her passion for libraries, we decided that we needed to help her bring her dreams to reality. We wanted to help her continue to pursue her passion even if she couldn’t technically be a librarian anymore.

Elmcroft actually had a small library in one of the office rooms, but since it was rarely used and saw very little upkeep, the small collection of books had fallen to the wayside and became a memory of the past. In order to provide recognition for Marge’s cherished past, we contacted the volunteer coordinator at Elmcroft, Elizabeth, and we decided that we would help Marge take on the project of refurbishing the library. The home is currently in the process of buying new book shelves, and we are discussing the possibility of organizing a book drive in the State College community. We obtained Marge’s phone number and she calls us frequently to share updates about the project.

When my teammates and I visited Elmcroft most recently, we were unsettled to find out that Marge was in the hospital. We were told that she was going to be fine, but it was upsetting to not see her face that Sunday. Approximately ten minutes after receiving this news, we encountered Marge’s two daughters who were at the home to retrieve a few of her items. Addressing us by our names, they asked us how we were doing. Initially, I was startled as to how these women whom I had never met knew my name. As it turns out, Marge is so excited about the library project that she shares all of the details with her family members. They expressed how excited Marge is about the library and how its keeping her optimistic even in the hospital.

Apparently, Marge’s daughters had purchased filing labels as per Marge’s instructions. Marge had created a color-coded key so that Elmcroft’s books could be neatly organized by genre and cover type. So, after obtaining an outline of specific instructions from Marge’s daughters, Ava, Emily, and I spent the next hour or so categorizing hundreds of books as fiction, non-fiction, biography, and reference.

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey

Sorting through the books!

My Mentor, Mary

Last semester, I wrote a post on my former passion blog Happy in the Valley that detailed the specifics of a service project that I am currently in the process of shaping into an on-campus organization. We call it The Memory Initiative, and I have become so invested in the project and its aims that I have decided to create a new passion blog documenting my experiences with it. If you are unfamiliar with The Memory Initiative please use the link I’ve included to read my page that gives a general overview of the project…

When my teammates and I were going through the process of pairing ourselves up with mentors, I was lucky enough to be matched with a woman named Mary. Mary lived in Elmcroft Senior Living facility located in State College, and she was a resident of the Heartland Village, which is an area in Elmcroft that is specialized for memory care. You see, Mary has dementia.

I’ll be the first to admit that at first, I was extremely nervous to be working with a person who has dementia.

What do I say?

How do I act?”

Although I may have learned about the epidemic in my high school psychology course, and I do anticipate to major in Neuroscience, I knew nothing about how to interact with people affected by it.

To my pleasant surprise, conversing with Mary was remarkably similar to how I would converse with just about anybody else. I asked her about her day, and she followed by asking me about mine. I’ve talked with Mary about the things that she likes to do, and although she may have dementia, Mary seems to carry out a tremendously healthful life. She loves to help out around the facility. When anyone is doing laundry, she is eager to assist in the folding of clothes. She likes puzzles even though she thinks that they’re tricking her sometimes, and books make her happy. Mary owns a large, tan, snakeskin purse, and even though she’s not as strong as she once was, she carries it with her everywhere. When I asked her why she doesn’t leave it in her room, she told me that she “wants to be prepared for anything.” Above all though, Mary loves her friends at Elmcroft.

My conversations with Mary never felt forced- they were natural and I felt comfortable when talking to her. In fact, although I asked her some of the same questions on multiple occasions, I received many different answers. She once told me that she had grown up on a farm with chickens and cows, and because she spent her days taking care of these animals all throughout her childhood, she is a workaholic still to this day. I asked her where she was from, and the answer to this question oftentimes varied as well. However, one thing always remained constant in Mary’s tales: her family. When Mary talked about her family, she communicated an immense sense of appreciation for them. Each of her family members she mentioned, she mentioned out of love.

During one visit to Elmcroft, I complimented Mary’s knit sweater and noted that it must be super cozy. To this she replied, “Oh, this old thing? I’ve had this since high school.” And a smile couldn’t help but spread across my face. Whenever I was visiting Mary and it was time for me to leave, she’d say something like “Please come back, because I do enjoy talking to you.” I came to notice that Mary made me smile a lot, sometimes even as I made my way to Mueller Lab at 8am on Wednesday mornings. In early November, my grandmother who had been on hospice care for over a year had passed away. I was unsettled, but visiting Mary somehow subtly remedied my grief. I missed my grandmother, specifically because I wished to have spent more time with her when I was still living at home. However, I found comfort in the fact that at least I could still positively impact the life of someone, even in the simplest way. Mary improved the quality of my weeks.

Just last week, I received notice that Mary had left Elmcroft to return home. Although a small bit of selfishness emerged as I regretted not having been able to say goodbye, I am overwhelmed with joy that she is home and reunited with her family again. Although my relationship with Mary was short-lived, it was meaningful. And although Mary forgot my name in between each week I met with her, I hope that somewhere inside of her she’ll remember me. Certainly, I will remember her.

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.” ~Maya Angelou