Madison Shoemaker knows she’s one of the few – if not only – youthful regulars at the assisted living home Abingdon Place in Gastonia.
But she doesn’t understand why young people shy away from volunteering with the elderly because aging is part of life. One day, they may find themselves living at a similar home and “they’ll want someone to visit them.”
Madison, 15, is a rising sophomore at Forestview High and got her first taste of visiting seniors in the seventh grade. She went to Abingdon Place with Myers Memorial United Methodist Church’s youth group for Halloween and never forgot how happy the residents were about the visit.
So when she heard that the home was seeking volunteers last winter, she did the standard drug screening, TB test and background check to be allowed to visit regularly. Madison started volunteering every Monday and Thursday this January.
From nails to the Net
Susan Hood, Abingdon Place’s volunteer program coordinator, said Madison has been a star volunteer.
“She’s our blessing,” Hood said. “She comes rain or shine. She’s done fingernails, hand massages. Everything I’ve asked her to do, she’s done joyfully.”
Madison said she wants to continue visiting until she goes to college.
“The people are just so sweet and appreciate everything you do,” Madison said. “You might be the only person to talk to them that day, and it makes their day.”
Madison’s big goal these days is to help make the residents more computer-literate. The home just got wireless Internet for residents in June.
She’s taught one woman how to play solitaire, and she plans to teach some computer classes to show residents how to email their families. She also wants to introduce them to Skype, which allows people to talk face-to-face with video cameras.
Madison said she’s currently writing a grant for money to get an iPad for the home as well.
“They’d like it, and I think they can learn how to use it,” she said.
Madison has also become Abingdon Place’s resident nail-painter and enjoys helping with bingo. She and her mother, Pam Shoemaker, decided the bingo prizes needed some improvement, and they’re now approaching cosmetic counters at department stores to ask for sample-size donations as prizes.
Last school year, Madison discovered that she enjoys writing, and she has been able to put some of those skills to use by listening to the life stories of different residents. She’s recorded their experiences and written first-person accounts for them to present to their families.
“They can teach me a lot from their experiences,” she said. “They have so much wisdom.”
Madison also likes the atmosphere. She said the residents joke around all the time.
“They gossip just like high school people do, it’s crazy: ‘Oh, she wants him as her sweetheart,’ and stuff like that.”
Madison recalled how pleased the residents were when she delivered Valentines to all of them this February. She handed out Disney princess Valentines to the ladies and superhero ones to the men.
“They’re fun to be around,” she said.
She’s also looking at the world a little differently as she spends more time there. Residents talk to her sometimes about how they won’t live for much longer, which Madison said can be a jolt. But it makes her more appreciative of life, too.
A new perspective
Though she used to think she wanted to be a teacher, Madison said she’s changed her mind since volunteering at Abingdon Place. She now wants to be a pharmacist.
“You have to be so careful,” she said, adding that some seniors have told her of near-disasters at doctor’s offices from mixing prescriptions. “I decided it’s very important. You’re the middle man between the patient and doctor.”
Madison’s mother, Pam, said it’s warmed her heart to see her daughter volunteer.
“She comes home and is so excited to tell us about her day,” she said. “I feel like she’s really matured since she’s been here.”
Hood said Abingdon Place is always in need of more volunteers.
Madison said she hopes she inspires other young people to work with seniors.
“At least try it,” she advised. “This might not be the thing for you, but you can volunteer anywhere. ... But get started, and you’ll probably like it.”
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