2016 - 2017 Youth Volunteer Award Recipients
Left to right: Barb Rode, President & CEO, Saint Therese;
Brian M. McDonald, board member, Saint Therese Foundation; Nicholas Jackson, age 18; Kylie Nevells, age 17
My journey to Saint Therese of New Hope was one of influence and inspiration. Last year, my school, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, took a field trip to Saint Therese in order to show us our opportunities in volunteering. I had not considered volunteering with the elderly as growing up as I have not had much experience with seniors. However, I reminded myself to have an open mind. Upon pulling up to Saint Therese, I realized the saint [the organization] was referring to was St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Instantly, a light went off in my head. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is my confirmation saint.
In eighth grade, my religion teacher taught our class a section on St. Therese. I remember being mesmerized by her stories and the strength she had shown in her most painful moments. St. Therese represented kindness in little deeds and strength where there was no hope. All of my life, I have been in awe of the idea to save the world; however, sometimes it is the little deeds that make the big difference. Soon I began drawing little flowers, since her nickname was the Little Flower, on my worksheets as a reminder of what I strived to become. Inevitably, I felt a calling towards Saint Therese and set my mind towards volunteering there. My parents questioned the convenience of Saint Therese as it was farther away than I had planned, but at this point, there was no where else I wanted to go. Soon enough, I began the application, moved on to the paper work, and began my volunteer work at Saint Therese as an escort and assistant for Bingo on the weekends.
Growing up, I had one grandparent that I rarely saw due to distance. When I say that I was hesitant on the idea of volunteering at a nursing home, I mean I had no intelligence whatsoever on how to take care of a resident. In fact, the idea made me uncomfortable. This discomfort, however, is what pushed me into volunteering. I had always wanted a grandparent nearby and the only way I could come close to that is by making myself uncomfortable.
The first day of volunteering, certainly, I was afraid. I struggled to even say hello to the residents, but I am glad I did because my first ‘hello’ was to a resident named Helen. Helen is a woman who looks out windows with a smile like the sun is always warming her face. Her joy radiates through her stories and hope. She saved me on my first day with her kindness. Her welcoming gave me comfort and courage. Soon enough, I began making connections with more residents.
As time went on, I met another resident named Frank. Frank didn’t say anything more than a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ but I believe he taught me more than any other resident. The first week meeting Frank made me a bit nervous as he needed extra help playing bingo and his breathing was irregularly loud. The next week, I became more comfortable and brought him back to his room where I saw a poster saying he had served our country. I said ‘goodbye’, but my mind began to wander back to my history class, making me think about everything Frank could have gone through.
Before long, I learned Frank didn’t need as much assistance as I thought. He was playing bingo like a champ! With a glance in my direction every once in a while for reassurance, he went on with a smile. I wish I could ask him what his life was like. My heart told me I had a lot to learn from this man, yet he had already taught me so much. The respect I have for every individual resident is beyond belief, for I have no idea what they have gone through. Actions are truly louder than words. Persistence is key to success. All these lessons were exemplified by a man who didn’t speak.
Many of my friends have trouble believing I volunteer at a nursing home, for there is not much entertainment. I say that volunteering with older adults is essential as a teenager. The world becomes larger after volunteering. There was a world before us and there will be one after us. This idea seems obvious but I never truly understood it until volunteering at Saint Therese. People who lived before us created the world we currently live in. They exemplify the backbone of our present and continue to show their hard work through even the simplest game of bingo as they strive to keep their minds sharp. Every generation is worth fighting for. We must fight for those who came before us and save those who come after. I believe if more youth volunteers helped the elderly our world would grow in respect and love for the lives of every generation.
While I continue to not have a grandparent nearby I know that a community of hopeful residents is only a 15-minute drive away. These residents have changed my perspective on time and continually show me what it means to be a part of something bigger.
As an 18 year old honor roll high school senior at Braham High School in Braham, Minnesota, I recall the rewarding and life changing experiences at Saint Therese that not only impacted my life but, eventually, the lives of those I served.
I was first introduced to Saint Therese through a high school volunteer work program at Cooper High School in New Hope, Minnesota. In my time as a volunteer, I met and interacted with many senior residents. I enjoyed learning about them and listening to their stories. I took a genuine interest in each and every resident that I was privileged to meet.
My volunteer work led to a part-time job offer as a dietary aide in March 2016. I was ecstatic. It was my first real job. I worked as a team member and gained considerable experience serving meals, preparing the dining room and ensuring that the overall dining experience was positive. But much more than just serving residents to meet their nutritional needs, I was privileged to have personal interaction with the residents and receive the reward of truly serving them and making a difference in their lives.
Serving the residents at Saint Therese took many forms. From making someone smile with a funny chicken pen that I would use to take orders, wheeling them back to their rooms or simply spending time to listen to their lives stories. Each resident was important to me. Each had value and brought value to my life. I made a point of remembering names and the details of their lives. One resident was saving pop tops, so that’s what I did too. It gave me joy to go home after work and look for ways that I could bless the residents I served.
And then there was Joe. Joe became more than just someone I served, he became my friend, my very good friend. As Joe and I shared many conversations and time together, his life adventures unfolded for me like a great novel. There were his stories of being a pilot during war time and stories of great sorrow over his wife’s passing. He shared stories about his family and photos that captured each Kodak moment. Joe took the time to write me a poem: “There are words that make me happy, words that make me blue, but the three words I love most are I love you”. I treasure it to this day. Joe gave me good advice for living. He was like a father to me.
As time and life would have it, my family moved from New Hope to Stanchfield, Minnesota. I considered trying to keep my job with Saint Therese but it became apparent that the distance wasn’t going to allow me to. I did my best when I was in town to stop by and visit, as so much of my heart was with the people at Saint Therese.
Then one summer day in 2016, the phone call came that Joe had passed away. Driving to the church for his funeral, I recalled all of the time I had been privileged to share with him. Reliving the moments and appreciating all that he had invested in me. The soldiers wreath stood tall and proud, honoring Joe for his time in the service. Sitting next to my mother, we cried, along with many others who were deeply touched by his life, not only tears of sadness but of joy for all that his life had meant.
Shortly after the funeral, I received a letter in the mail. It was from Joe’s family. Inside the envelope was a newspaper article about him and they shared with me what it had meant for us to have built the strong friendship we had. It was truly I that had benefited.
As I prepare for college, these experiences at Saint Therese have forever shaped me. They have given me the gift of knowing it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.
If I am selected to receive a scholarship from Saint Therese, I assure you that you will be investing in a young man that desires to make a positive difference in the world. I will continue passing along the gift of serving others that I was able to experience.
I would apply the scholarship to my tuition for Machine School Technology at Alexandria Technical and Community College or Dunwoody College of Technology. This scholarship would enable me to pursue a career in Machine Tool Technology and help me to make a difference in the world around me.