Ruchelle Buenaventura, Iona Senior Services

Iona Senior Services, St. Alban’s Wellness Center, is a place that I call home. Starting as an eager volunteer, Iona made me appreciate the community to a larger aspect. I learned that volunteering should not be for the resume, but how an individual can impact the community holistically. Many students in the millennial generation tend to perceive community service as a necessity for the resume, trending with the white-savior complex; however, it is much more than that. At Iona, I assisted the elderly wellness center with approximately 30 participants daily through interactive activities such as cultural and health dialogue, while also distributing meals, conversing with the participants, and designing a program day for seniors to share skills with college students in order to entice memory and social wellness.

Throughout this experience, I made close ties with the senior participants at the center. In fact, several of them expressed their personal issues with me as I came in every week, which was quite interesting from my perspective. I learned how their community functioned, specifically their everyday lifestyles ranging from living alone to having relatives that work during the day. Though, a commonality stood as the need to socialize with others in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This social factor was incredibly important to seniors, which I did not realize in the past. This was the pinnacle concept to understanding my purpose at Iona – to communicate with seniors in order to enhance their insights of everyday life. As a young college student, I have the ability to connect with participants through my youthful experiences, academic interests, and personal life in order to bring them joy. Sometimes my experiences remind them of their own youthful days, which result in rewarding stories of their identities. While I have the ability to retrieve stories from participants, they reminisce on their younger days, and provide advice. In fact, one man gave me love advice specifically saying, “you may have a lot of small fires in your life, but you have to wait for your biggest flame”.

Apart from my experiences with the seniors, the staff dynamic at Iona is a humble welcome to anyone that steps in the building. Personally, I have a close relationship with the program director, Courtney Tolbert, where we form dialogues about race, gender, and age disparities. Some issues we talk about are implemented into the Wellness Center Program, such as cultural activities and race dialogues. It is important to be aware of current issues and to have dialogue about them in order to entice critical thinking, especially for seniors who may be entranced in traditional ways. As a program director, Courtney creates a friendly dynamic with the volunteers, a leadership style that persists on relationship building for community growth. This benefits the seniors due to the friendly environment that they are surrounded with.

As a result, my time volunteering with Iona Senior Services matured my approach on volunteerism. In an internship-centered environment, it is important to understand that volunteerism is not about the hours or resume, but about the personal passion that advances the community’s needs.

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