According to the website for Kids Giving Back, volunteering is a two-way street, giving children and their families an opportunity to change lives, including their own. Because of the Mennonite Home Community of Ohio’s volunteer program, Bluffton’s Lewandowski family has been given a new view of aging and nursing homes.
Ginna Lewandoski and her two children, Pearl, 15, and Joseph, 10, have been caring for plants and making rounds with the snack cart at Maple Crest and Mennonite Memorial Home for about a year. Ginna got the idea of volunteering as a family during a lunch with co-workers at Marathon Petroleum Corporation.
“During college I worked as an assistant activities director at a Bowling Green nursing home and just loved it,” said Ginna. “I mentioned this one day at lunch and my friends suggested that I might enjoy being at a nursing facility as a volunteer. Since we live in Bluffton, I thought of Mennonite Memorial Home.”
When searching for a volunteer opportunity, Ginna had two criteria. First, she must be able to include her children, and, second, the schedule had to be flexible.
“I work full time,” she added. “I didn’t want to come home and then turn around and leave my kids again.” Luckily, she found the perfect opportunity close to home and able to accommodate the family’s schedule.
According to Ginna, she and her kids don’t volunteer every weekend, but just on the ones they can. The snack cart takes less than 30 minutes and, since they pick up the cart and make their way through the nursing home, there’s no waiting around.
“We handle it all,” said Ginna. “If the elders want a snack that’s not on the cart, the kids love going back to the kitchen themselves to get it. They feel really independent.”
Ginna admitted that she didn’t know what to expect when they began volunteering. Prior to this, Pearl and Joseph had little to no experience in a nursing home facility. As it turned out, the kids were surprised at how “feisty” the elders are. Joseph and Pearl also receive so many compliments that they really feel like they’re contributing.
Through its Volunteer Incentive Program, Marathon Petroleum Corporation encourages volunteerism by making a financial contribution to non-profit organizations where employees have given 24 or more hours of their time in a year. This has given Ginna an added incentive to continue the family’s involvement at MHCO.
In addition to the snack cart and watering plants, Ginna and Pearl have covered a few special events for MHCO, including a New Year’s Eve Party last year.
In keeping with the tradition of the ball drop on Times Square, Pearl operated a slaw cutter drop at the Maple Crest Party. “We learned that slaw cutters were once manufactured in Bluffton,” Ginna laughed.
Pearl and Joseph have their own opinions on their volunteer experiences. Joseph loves the snack cart and thinks he has better communication with the elders. “They’re nice!” He also likes helping out in the community. Pearl says the elders are “sweet and kind.” She also feels the residents are very gracious and that she has learned to see nursing homes differently.
Ginna would definitely recommend volunteering at MHCO to other families.
“I think my kids have a different perspective on the elderly and nursing homes in general from their experience.”
Benefits of Working with the Elderly
According to Erik Erikson, one of the first psychologists to describe social development across the lifespan, linking older adults with youth can provide advantages for both groups. Such relationships can:
- Provide an opportunity for both to learn new skills
- Help to alleviate fears the children may have of the elderly
- Help children to understand and later accept their own aging
- Invigorate and energize older adults
- Reduce the isolation of older adults
- Fill a void for children who do not have grandparents available to them
Interested in a family volunteer opportunity at Mennonite Home Communities of Ohio? Visit https://mhcoliving.org/ways-to-give/volunteer/ and complete an application, or contact Jessica Strahm, volunteer coordinator, at JStrahm@mhcoliving.org