Service Learning and Its Impact

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

For my service-learning opportunity I volunteered at Via, a local senior citizen program that enables seniors an opportunity to have fun, socialize, exercise, and be mobile. Via was a great place to volunteer at because the people there were very friendly, genuine, and fun. I liked serving at Via more than some of the other service sites I have volunteered at in the past because the atmosphere was very welcoming. Unlike with some other nursing homes and things of the like, Via did not feel like a hospital or a place where people came to wait to die, rather, the people at Via were constantly on the move and ready to do anything. Most days we were there the other volunteers and I would play dominoes and talk to the Via members. This is a type of service that I think is often overlooked because just talking to people isn’t something you can donate money to. Talking to people provides them with an outlet for their social needs and makes elderly people feel heard and appreciated.

            My experience at Via was not as complimented by my past academic knowledge as much as I wish it had been. I was able to draw some knowledge from my Developmental Psychology class because we learned about the physical and psychological hardships that elderly people have to face. In the class we did an exercise that helped us learn what it was like to have some of the physical ailments that older people begin to develop. I felt that knowing a little bit about what it is like to be someone who is eighty years old helped me communicate better with them and understand where they were coming from when they were talking to me. I also could understand the sense of frustration that many elderly people carry with them every day because their bodies are not performing as well as they used to. There was one man named Mr. Tim that I would play dominoes with that didn’t have enough fine motor skills to place the dominoes by himself. It was difficult to watch him try to place a domino every time it was his turn and not be able to do it. I felt that the simple act of me helping Mr. Tim place his domino was a simple act that gave him a sense of support.

            Working with the Via members exposed me to the challenges elderly people have every day. I have volunteered at a nursing home before and seen the challenges the old old face but the younger old are somewhat more aware of the challenges they face. The old old of nursing homes are sometimes at the point of delirium or have lost their will to live. I feel like the people at Via are very aware of their aging minds and bodies. This can certainly be a very terrifying thought. When younger people realize that the elderly are coming to grips with their own mortality I think it is difficult for us to not treat them with compassion and dignity as we would all want the same treatment when we grow old.

            Clearly, the biggest difference between the people I was working with and myself was the age, all of them were at least fifty years my senior. This enormous age difference means that these men and women grew up in quite a different time than I did and have experienced many things that I never will. They are able to tell stories about when they were a kid and got their first television or when their family bought their first car. Many of them have also never left Mobile; I have moved from St. Louis to Mobile. I think being raised in a very different social environment has also led to the differences between the Via members and myself. The cultures of St. Louis and Mobile are so different, but also similar in some aspects. There is a heavy emphasis on religion in both cities in my opinion. Some differences include St. Louis’ larger city life and Mobile’s more rural life. St. Louis is also a city that has a lot of professional sports influence whereas Mobile does not.

            What I learned about myself from this experience was that I thoroughly enjoy spending time getting to know people and talking to them. I have always been a better listener than speaker so this experience has reinforced that idea even more. I also think that working with the Via members has solidified my desire to become a therapist. While working with them I found myself wanting to listen to them more and more, it was an interesting feeling. I learned how to be a little more patient as well.

            Overall, my experience at Via was very positive. I would certainly recommend doing service work there to other people. It provides a wonderful learning opportunity to anyone who wants to learn patience, personal histories, and how to communicate with people who are different than you. Hopefully I can continue to do service at Via even after this semester comes to an end.