My name is Grace Lohmeier and I am a freshman Public Health major. This semester I am working at Iona Senior Services in Tenleytown and attaching the CSLP credit to my Intro to Health Promotion class. Iona is an organization that works with older adults and their families through the difficulties of aging. The organization has a number of different programs, including classes, weekend meal delivery, and an active wellness program at the St. Alban’s location. The areas I am involved with are weekend meal packing and the day program at the Wellness and Art Center at Iona’s main location. The day program is important because it provides supervision and care each day for older adults suffering from chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and allows them to go home each night. The program is ideal for individuals who may need some additional help or support, but do not need to be hospitalized full time. The Wellness and Arts center assists caregivers in improving the quality of life for their loved ones by immersing them in a supportive and social community each day.
Throughout the semester, I have been going to the Wellness and Arts center once a week for three or four hours and assisting the participants in any activities they are doing that day. The schedule for the program varies in terms of activities but has some similar elements each day. I arrive after they finish eating lunch and are about to begin the afternoon activity. Some of these have been: writing a story as a group, trivia, learning more about famous people, and even listening to a musical performance of love songs the week before Valentine’s Day. My role in these activities was assisting the person leading it or simply helping ensure the participants were engaged by talking to them or sitting with them. After the group activity, the participants moved to sit at tables and had their afternoon snack. Around this time some of the participants would start to get picked up and the people remaining would often color in pictures or do other crafts at the tables. I would sit and talk with the participants or help them do the crafts.
I expected this volunteering to be somewhat emotionally difficult because the participants have chronic conditions, many of them involving memory loss. One challenge I encountered during my volunteering was reassuring some of the participants that someone would be coming to pick them up eventually. When the participants notice other people are getting picked up and they do not remember how they are getting home, they get very confused and agitated. The volunteers are trained to help in these moments by reassuring them or distracting them with a new activity. This part of volunteering met my expectations and was difficult and hard on me emotionally to see the participants so upset.
My other volunteer position at Iona includes packaging meals and putting them in cars to be delivered to older people living in the community. This is less interactive, but still important and related to promoting health. My CSLP experience connects very well with my Intro to Health Promotion class because the Wellness and Arts center emphasizes healthy living on a physical and emotional level. Older people have high rates of depression and many medical issues that can be related to difficulty exercising. The program has physical activities such as exercise classes and walking groups to improve the physical wellbeing of the participants. There are also nurses that work at the center to provide medical supervision and treatment that some participants need, such as dispensing medication and taking blood pressure. The biggest role the center has in health promotion is in promoting mental health by allowing the participants to have a social life. Loneliness is a major contributor to depression and social interaction can also help slow cognitive decline. Iona focuses on the elderly popular which is a group at risk for many health problems and the program helps maintain a good quality of life for the participants. I have taken away many things to use in my future career in public health. I have learned that it can be helpful to focus on specific populations and their needs when working to promote health. I was most surprised to enjoy my volunteering as much as I have and that the participants are more similar to me than I had originally expected.