Lauren Sklar: Learning Life Lessons at CARES
This summer I was fortunate enough to be ‘strongly encouraged’ by my parents to volunteer at the CJFS CARES program! When I started, I was not sure what to expect. Though my grandmother has dementia, I had only had volunteer experiences working with younger children. My anxiety quickly disappeared as everyone was so welcoming. Pam, Lise, and the volunteers at CARES made me feel at home by including me in the activities from Day One.
CARES is a respite program for older adults who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other movement/memory disorders. Participants come to CARES to socialize among their peers and have fun in a place free of judgement. While they are at CARES, their primary caretaker has time for themselves--to catch up or get some well-deserved rest. Daily activities included singing, playing games, doing artwork, and sharing lots of laughs. I was surprised by how happy and cheerful everyone was.
Working with the CARES participants, I realized how big an impact I could have on someone’s day by helping them work a puzzle, engaging them in conversation, or just sharing a smile. I learned that working with people with memory issues, some may not remember exactly what I did--they were much more likely to remember how I made them feel. It was such a good feeling for me knowing I was making a difference in someone's life.
One of my biggest take-aways was that memory disorders happen differently for different people. Some may forget the big things such as a birth, marriage, or death in their family, and others might forget something smaller, like what just happened. As much as I may have been there to help them, they helped me by sharing their life experiences and wisdom. People with any memory disorders still have so much to offer and deserve our respect and appreciation. I have already asked Pam and Lise to save me a volunteer spot at CARES next summer!!
For information about volunteering at CARES, contact Lise Grace at email@example.com, 205.410.1958.