Our struggling nation is in serious need of volunteers– people to clean up lakes, paint houses, plant trees, and provide social service work. These small acts of kindness provide a tremendous amount of aid to our planet, our society, and the individuals within them. One of the easiest ways to make the world a better place is to volunteer your time or labor to nonprofit causes.
Full-time stay-at-home moms can face a challenge when seeking volunteer work, since we tend to have our children attached to our hips at nearly all times. Instead of seeking paid childcare while you engage in a volunteer activity, consider volunteering to visit or assist at a nursing home. Not only will your child’s presence be welcome there, but he or she will also make volunteering more enjoyable for everyone involved.
When I was a child, my own mother worked as a nurse and frequently visited nursing homes for work. When no one was available to take care of us while she worked, we would occasionally come with her. I never forget the looks of utter joy on the faces of the patients, who would eagerly exclaim to each other “Look! Children!” as if we were celebrities. It was this clear memory that prompted me, as a stay-at-home mom, to bring my own daughter to visit a local nursing home.
Nursing homes are somber, somewhat depressing places where patients often seem to wait for death as if they are waiting for a train to arrive. They view it as an inevitability that only time will tell. To someone facing near-imminent death, there is often nothing more cheerful than the sight of a person who is just beginning life: a child. For this reason, bringing your child with you to visit a nursing home is not only welcome, it’s ideal!
Visiting a nursing home is also one of the most rewarding volunteer opportunities available. In fact, it’s unlikely that it will feel like volunteer “work” at all. Walking from room to room and visiting with each patient will you and your child an opportunity to speak to amazing, wise, and often very pleasant people. Considering the number of nursing home residents with no living relatives and no visitors, you can take heart in knowing that you and your child have brightened the final days of a person’s twilight years.
To volunteer at a nursing home, simply call the nursing homes in your area and ask what the requirements are to visit strangers. Most likely, they will welcome you to walk room-to-room at your own leisure and talk to the residents there. They might have requirements limiting the amount of interaction you can have with patients who are mentally unstable or very sick, and they will probably ask that you and your child not visit if either of you are feeling sick– a mild cold to someone healthy can be life-threatening for someone who is already very ill.
If your child is young enough to understand, tell him as much as you can about the way a nursing home works. This can be a wonderful educational experience for him, because it will teach him the importance of volunteering and the value of respecting the elderly. Infants and toddlers will enjoy showing off for all the new faces, and older children will likely enjoy the attention showered on them by nursing home residents. School-age children can even use it as an opportunity to learn about the diseases and conditions that might be associated with aging– don’t be surprised if your child decides to become a doctor or nurse after volunteering with you at a nursing home!
When you visit the nursing home, you may want to ask the caregivers a few questions about the patients to see who is in the most serious need of a friendly visit. Some nursing home residents have visitors every day, while others are likely to be deeply depressed because they never receive visitors at all. If you ask the nurses or caregivers a few questions in advance, they might give you hints on how to spark a good conversation with the patient: “Is that your great-granddaughter in the picture there?” or “A nurse told me that you fought in World War II. I’d love to hear about that.” Invite your child to participate in conversations with the patients, as well.
The vast majority of nursing home residents are ailing from completely noncontagious diseases, but if you have a young child, you may want to check with the nurses before you visit each individual patient to prevent the spread of viral and bacterial infections. It isn’t a bad idea to bring hand sanitizer for you and your child, to be on the safe side. Many children feel frightened of those who are sick, so reassure your child that he will not get cancer or a stroke from talking to a person who is sick with either.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to brighten the world and educate your child, and, as a stay-at-home mom, there are no better volunteer opportunities than in a nursing home. The world at large will become a much better place as we embrace the sick, the elderly, and the lonely– and if you can educate your child while making someone’s final days better, your kindness will be ever appreciated.