A person who is interested in volunteering in a long-term care facility is a very special person. Activity directors are always overjoyed to hear from someone who is willing to help. If you are one of those people, what follows are some basic requirements you need to be aware of when you go to serve the residents of the facility.
First Of All
Volunteers are not superhuman people. Volunteers are folks just like you who are trying to make a difference in others’ lives. Volunteers have all of the selfishness and pride to overcome daily that everyone else has. So, do not exclude yourself if you do not feel like an extremely mature saint with a total grip on being sweet, kind and patient. Just consider what you do have to offer, and as you go along volunteering without fanfare, trusting in God, you may very well find Him blessing and empowering you to minister in ways you never dreamed possible! All you can do is the best you can, bringing a cheery attitude and an open mind willing to learn, believing that God will do the rest.
You need to be physically fit enough to perform the service you are expected to do. For example, many activities require transporting wheelchair bound residents. Pushing wheelchairs may not sound very strenuous, but the halls of a facility get very long after 5 or 6 trips back and forth to the dining room, and negotiating an occupied chair over a threshold or ramp can be very challenging, even to the young, able body! This challenge is compounded by the weight of some residents. Further, if you have contracted the flu or some other communicable disease, please let the activity department know as soon as possible and stay home until you are completely over it!
It is important for the volunteer to know how to respect the person-hood of residents. Care facility residents are adults and should be treated accordingly. You must be patient and polite with each resident and stay calm in the event of an accident or emergency. A volunteer needs to be personable, friendly with everyone, because a nursing home is not a factory making widgets. It is a caring home for people who cannot care for themselves! You should be willing to conduct yourself according to the same rules governing the behavior of staff members.
The whole group of residents in a nursing home is a social reflection of the general population. The cultural, religious, moral, racial mix in the facility is as diverse as it is in the community at large. Therefore, you may encounter circumstances that violate your own personal convictions. If this happens, do not condemn and accuse. Respect the rights of each individual involved and only if necessary bring the matter up discreetly in order to be excused. Remember, you are in their private home as a guest.
The Art of Communicating
(This material adapted from a volunteer seminar given by Darlene Quiram, activity director, formerly at Heritage Hall, Virginia Beach, VA.)
An indispensable component in care-giving is relationship. It is impossible to have a relationship with anyone without communication. Communication is two way – for communication to happen there must be at least two active participants. Just saying something is not necessarily communicating.
Communication is composed of the exchange of three basic things:
For communication to occur, the receiving person must get information from the giver. What are the facts?
But, getting just the raw facts is not enough! The receiver must also know the true feelings that the giver has about that information in order to understand what the giver is trying to say.
Then the giver must get feedback from the receiver in order to validate or modify the impressions about the information and feelings that the receiver got.
The character or nature of this communication process determines the quality of the relationship between the two participants: is it bitter or sweet? For a volunteer’s efforts to be effective and meaningful, this process of communicating must take place with the residents of the care facility. This is work! And you must learn to LISTEN for it to happen. You must learn to pay attention to all the little ways a resident communicates – verbal and non-verbal. Listen to their words and watch their actions – it is all part of your relationship with them. Please, do your part to make that relationship as good as it can be!
It is our recommendation that you approach your volunteer job prayerfully. Having prayed and feeling it is God’s will for you to volunteer to help in nursing homes, you need to see yourself as being sent by your Heavenly Father to be a servant. This servanthood is an opportunity for you to minister to the residents, their family members, fellow volunteers, and the staff of the care facility. As you are engaged in fulfilling the tasks you have agreed to do, you must be able to do them as directed by the activity director with a cheerful attitude. There will be times when it is necessary for administrative and nursing staff members to give instructions. Accept them willingly – remember, you are there to serve.
Make every effort not to dislike or engage in conflict with any staff member. Do not allow yourself to develop an ugly attitude toward the staff. If you have a problem with a particular person, pray about it and wait for the Lord to work it out: He sent you, remember? So He is with you. Never forget that staff members, regardless of their mistakes, have legitimate authority in their areas of responsibility and God expects you to respect that fact.
A Condition of the Heart
As a Christian volunteer, the most important characteristic in your profile is the spiritual condition of your heart. Your motive must be primarily to serve, to give and to do so without expecting anything in return. The people you minister to cannot pay you and in some cases they cannot even say thanks. And the next time you go to see them, they may not remember your name, much less your last visit. But we know it is clear in Holy Scripture that our Heavenly Father wants us to go to the care facility residents with His love in our heart:
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Out of our love for our Lord Jesus Christ, these scriptures are motivation enough. It is that simple motivation of the love of God in our heart that makes our efforts in the nursing home a true Christian ministry!
In this light, we include a poem for your encouragement.
My Daily Creed
Let me be a little kinder,
Let me be a little blinder
To the faults of those about me;
Let me praise a little more;
Let me be, when I am weary,
Just a little bit more cheery;
Let me serve a little better
Those that I am striving for.
Let me be a little braver
When temptation bids me waver;
Let me strive a little harder
To be all that I should be;
Let me be a little meeker
With the brother that is weaker;
Let me think more of my neighbor
And a little less of me.