When I arrived for my first day of community service at Iona’s Active Wellness Program at St. Alban’s back in September, I was very excited and eager to start. I had visited the headquarters of Iona Senior Service in Tenleytown last spring to complete an assignment for an Introduction to Health Promotion class. I was quickly drawn in by Iona’s commitment to serve a population that I never really thought of as needing specified health promotion programs: senior citizens. Before learning about Iona’s mission, my perception of senior citizens was that they either lived comfortably on their own, or were bound to a nursing home or assisted living establishment. After speaking extensively with an Iona administrator, I learned that there is so much more to the experience of being a senior citizen, especially in a city like Washington DC. They seek dynamism, social interactions and assistance in their lives that can often go ignored. Iona is an organization that strives to help seniors with such day-to-day issues. The Active Wellness Program at St. Alban’s is designed to serve senior citizens that are on the “active” end of the aging spectrum. The participants of the Active Wellness Program are quite independent; they are able to get themselves to St. Alban’s Church for the program each day, and actually participate in the activities provided. One of the notable activities includes daily, guided exercise classes facilitated by professional fitness leaders who specialize in senior activity. I was shocked to see the amount of people who come specifically for the exercise class. It was incredible to learn that seniors are not only willing to improve their health through physical activity, but they’re actually excited about it!
My first day volunteering at Iona was not as cathartic as I had anticipated. I don’t quite remember what I was expecting from the program, but the first day was certainly underwhelming. Coincidentally, my first day of work was also the same day that Pope Francis held a rally on the National Mall regarding climate change. DC residents were warned to avoid public transportation or driving if they were not headed downtown. Therefore, the Active Wellness Program was missing most of its regular participants. I spent the majority of my four hours sitting at a table waiting for seniors to show up so I could sign them in for the day. I think about five people came in. I feared that this would be the “service” I was going to do every Wednesday for the next 12 weeks. Who was I even helping? I left that day feeling quite defeated despite assurances from my supervisor that this never happened; they were usually much busier. I took her words, and showed up the following week hopeful that I might actually contribute something useful to Iona’s Active Wellness Program. I couldn’t possibly imagine the extraordinary experience I would have volunteering there over the course of this semester. Between an illness overtaking me one Wednesday, and Veteran’s Day knocking out another, I have begun volunteering at Iona three times per week instead of just once to ensure I fulfill my 40-hour requirement. I’m on my way to exceeding this requirement, and I don’t intend on cutting back my hours.