In this world of fast information, fast food, and fast results, it’s easy to forget the importance of slowing down and face-to-face communication.
Many seniors haven’t forgotten this. While many of them have email, smart phones, and tablets, many do not. One of the most important challenges today is to remember to really interact with program participants. In the rush for efficiency and the convenience of technology, we can, inadvertently, leave seniors in the virtual dust.
Ten years ago, when I began working as the senior programmer for the city of Safety Harbor in Florida, there was one lunch trip and one day-excursion trip a month—in a 15-passenger van. Now, there are three to four trips a week, including lunches, day excursions, casino outings, and overnight trips—in a 33-passenger bus—all of which are staff-planned and staff-run. With that type of schedule, there isn’t much extra time in a 40-hour week.
Inevitably, someone has a question, or just wants to chat. Although it is wonderful to be needed, I inwardly groan as I pull myself away from the mammoth to-do list at my computer and see a sweet, slightly confused face looking to me to clear up a problem. But by the time that person walks out the door, grateful, and excited, I remember why I love seniors so much. I return to my desk, scratching my head and wondering again why the rest of the world isn’t after my job. Why doesn’t everyone want to work with seniors?
Our industry isn’t like most others. Although we need to bring in revenue, we aren’t monetarily driven. We are a resource, a refuge, a redirection for lives. We give people a place to learn a hobby. We offer a place to start and nurture relationships, as well as a place to better their lives. So, if, as an industry, we are different from most, why wouldn’t we interact differently with participants?
Stretching The Social Boundaries
One of the seniors was apprehensive to sign up for lunch trips, scared of any type of exotic food. After sitting with her and reviewing the list of restaurants we visit during a season, she now signs up for multiple lunch trips, and has a great time! I may even get her to try sushi someday!
Often, a new senior, who has entered a new phase of life, will come to the building. He or she may have just lost a spouse or moved to the area. It is our job, our duty, to be, at the very least, a little ray of light and hope that this new phase can be fun, fulfilling, and happy.
I love to tell people about my friend Joan. Recently widowed and new to the area, she walked into the senior center 9 years ago. I sat with her and reviewed our program offerings. While apprehensive at first, she decided to sign up for a trip.
As time passed, Joan went on more trips, engaged in different activities, and met new people. A year later, she was at the center almost every day of the week for a trip or an activity. Through our programs, she has met new friends with whom she has a weekly pot-luck card game. And, they all went to Las Vegas together! In only a few months, Joan went from lonely, sad, and scared to active, social, and happy.
While we aren’t doctors or lawyers or the stewards of the daily necessities of food, water, and shelter for seniors, we certainly save many lives. We give them a life!
And that is why we do what we do. We don’t merely give seniors something to do. We give hugs, shake hands, and promote friendships. We aren’t only giving them a place to play cards or a ride to lunch. We give them a social life, something to look forward to. Just as we strive to give children a good, solid foundation, we provide seniors socialization and opportunities.
Every once in a while, when stepping off the bus, one of my seniors tells me he or she loves me. It might be accidental or it might not. Either way, I’ll take it—as long as it isn’t a text or an email.
Katie Pounds has been the Recreation Programmer for seniors for the city of Safety Harbor, Fla., since 2003. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org .