This week I was fortunate enough to attend the end-of-semester event at another AAGP site, Charlottesville Health and Rehab. The grandparents and volunteers had an ice cream social together and entertained questions about travel as a group while enjoying fudge swirled- ice cream with various sugary toppings. An administrative aid of Charlottesville H&R called out questions to the group like, “Who has been outside America?” We all contemplated our histories and replied by separately calling, “I’ve been to Europe!” or “I’ve been to Brazil!” or even, “Well I’ve been to Brooklyn.” A chuckle resounded, and the aid continued, “Alright, alright, fair enough. Where is the farthest place you have been then?” An eccentric, outspoken man with a sailor’s cap replied, “I’ve been to Charlottesville!” Everyone laughed, and the man continued with an encore song about the “sweet drinks out in Batesville and how, why, you must save me some.” We all clapped after each one of his performances (he sang encores several times throughout the social).
It was the first time I had been to Charlottesville Health and Rehab. It is a new building, and there are many open windows throughout that let in the nice glow of an early spring sun. The place seems very friendly with caring staff, who were very receptive and engaging towards us volunteers as well as the patients. I felt at ease among new faces and characters and tremendously enjoyed the atmosphere of a communal living setting. It is quite different from volunteering at someone’s home. There is an energy among the various grandparents, and they all seem to feed off of the eccentricities of each other in a type of familial way.
I truly enjoy just sitting back and listening as each grandparent talks a little about their life experiences, or even daily experiences. To me, the group question is irrelevant. Whether we are all trying to connect over places we’ve been or haven’t been to, the effort of communication is the same. The art of volunteering (and the art of Adopt-A-Grandparent as well) comes from having the patience to just listen to a stranger and expend the energy necessary to at least try to understand a small part of their life story. That way, the exchange (whether it be in a group or home setting) is made between two people who are only trying to chart the uncharted and understand through questions, answers, and simple observations, how we differ and how we are the same. It is remarkable how similar the very young, young, old, and very old all are.