My mom sat in the driver's seat, her eyes staring down the open lane, driving silently with a type of rigidity that resembled a statue. I sat in the backseat of the van, staring out the window at the seemingly endless road, dreading what lay ahead. I was frustrated and upset with her because of the volunteer "opportunity" she committed me to. What kind of person forces a happy and sociable 15-year old teenager to volunteer at an adult daycare?
I mean, I have nothing against senior citizens. In fact, at first the prospect of dealing with the elderly didn't seem all that bad. However, after talking to some of my friends who had previously worked in nursing homes and adult daycares, I saw an entirely different picture. They all recalled countless times where they had to deal with ill-tempered patients, indifferent staff members, and an overall mundane atmosphere. I didn't want to spend six hours a day with a bunch of strange grumpy people that did nothing but complain about how cold it was or how all the kids these days look weird and listen to scary music. I just wanted to hang out with my friends.
Finally, after riding in the car for what seemed like an hour, I stepped out of the van hesitantly and began scanning the entire area, hoping to find a fire hazard or at least a zoning violation which I could use to prove to my mom that this location wasn't safe. Sadly, the premises seemed perfectly harmless so I hesitantly approached the front door with a sign on it reading "SarahCare." I opened this door slowly and we both walked inside. The Director was standing in the lobby and he gave us a smile as we were shuffling in. He thanked me for my time and personally gave us the tour of the facility. My stomach began to growl loudly.
I'm not one to be intimidated easily, but for some reason I dreaded meeting these people and having to interact with them. I even started to sweat a little. As we paced through the hall approaching the common room, where according to the Director, all the patrons were playing Bingo; the noise began to increase incrementally with the sound of conversation and laughter. I soon found myself staring into a room that contained around 35 old, grey-haired people. The moment I saw them, all my anxiety and apprehension washed away. I couldn't believe my eyes: these people were happy and normal! They were enjoying their lives just as much as my friends and I enjoy ours. The only difference was our age.
After they finished their bingo game, the Director took me to the front and introduced me to the patrons. They all waved, smiled, and some even shook my hand. My stomach quickly stopped growling and I even began to smile a little. I soon came in every other day to volunteer. I set up games, prepared meals, and helped entertain and engage all the senior citizens. Over this period of time, I met two World War II veterans, three nurses, two school teachers, a former Vanderbilt college professor, and even a former Olympic athlete. All these people were very kind and took the time to tell me about their lives and all the amazing memories they had. I learned so much about history and how the world has changed from their perspectives.
When I recall this experience, I can't help but feel a small tinge of shame. I almost refused to volunteer at SarahCare because of some bad things that happened to my friends at other nursing homes. I had made up my mind that all senior citizens in nursing homes were unhappy and depressed people without even visiting one. By letting stereotypes dictate my attitude, I gave in to ignorance without even a second thought. After meeting these wonderful people, I'm so glad that I didn't let my pre-conceptions get in the way of this fantastic experience. They were energetic, lively, and incredibly wise which me made me realize that when I assume the worst about anything, I only make myself look foolish. Now I always look forward to new opportunities because even the unlikeliest experiences can make a tremendous impact.