Serving Seniors

by Tom Hogan

“Tom,” many people ask, “what do you do at those assisted living places where you volunteer?” A few IVC volunteers ask me, “How does what you do there qualify as service to the poor?” I have been volunteering for the past three and a half years at two assisted living residences established by Victory Housing under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Washington. One day a week I’m at Byron House on the campus of Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, MD, and one day at Bartholomew House on the campus of St. Bartholomew’s Parish in Bethesda, MD.

Although I have no idea whether the residents at these homes are financially poor, I definitely know that they are all poor in lots of other ways.  All of the residents are elderly. They are in declining health and need some type of physical aid and assistance on a daily basis. Many have poor hearing or eyesight; almost all have poor short-term memories. Many can no longer walk, and even those who can need walkers.  A few seem to suffer from depression.

And almost all enjoy the group entertainment, which is a big part of what I do. At each House I lead three regular group activities.  I also try to offer some personal attention whenever I can, particularly to those who don’t regularly attend the group activities.  In the morning I lead a word game. On a large board I write a word that has all 5 vowels and 7 or 8 consonants. I then ask the residents to think of any common English word using any of the letters from the word that I posted.  This word game is a big hit at each House.  The residents can usually suggest anywhere from 275 to 550 words, and some don’t even want to stop playing at lunchtime!

In the afternoon, I lead a group Rosary, usually attended by 12 to 16 residents; there are even a few non-Catholics who come.  To me it is especially heartwarming when a new resident, perhaps with a little reluctance, joins the group and I realize that he or she probably hasn’t said the Rosary for a long time and begins to relearn the prayers that he or she may have forgotten.

The third group activity is different at each House.  In the afternoon at Byron House I lead a group crossword puzzle, while at Bartholomew House I have recently been reading Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation (which I constantly remind them is their generation: the ones who lived through the Depression and fought and won World War II).

The personal attention I give to some of the residents may consist of private discussions, or some small encouragement like when someone says “I can’t do this,” or whatever other requests I can respond to within my abilities.

The IVC service I perform at Victory Housing is greatly rewarding spiritually.  For two days every week it allows me to fulfill one of the morning prayers I usually offer:

Lord, let me see you in every one I meet today,

And Lord, let me be you to every one I meet today.

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