It seems to me that this is exactly how the Lord often works: He makes a need obvious to one of His servants, and soon enough “seeing” becomes “doing.”
Here are a few pressing needs I’ve observed at the nursing home where I hang out. See anything that might turn into a personal calling for you?
Personal shopper: Not many nursing-home residents are able to get out and shop for necessities or niceties. And few are able to access online stores themselves. If you enjoy shopping, and if there’s a way to get reimbursed for your expenditures via, for instance, a petty cash fund, perhaps you could become a personal shopper for as many residents as you have time to serve.
Even though it’s not my thing, I actually do some shopping for one of my resident friends—virtually all of it online. She has all of her marbles (and then some), as well as the ability to get me reimbursed quickly and easily, so it works out very well for both of us.
But how cool would it be for someone who loves to shop, and is a good money manager, to offer this service on a volunteer basis? On any given day your shopping basket might contain items from cosmetics to batteries, slippers to magnifying glasses, stationery to gifts for grandkids—whatever needs have become impossible for your elderly friends to meet under their own power.
In-room gardener: Some residents receive wonderful indoor plants that they appreciate greatly, but are unable to care for themselves. Perhaps you could help those plants thrive, going from room to room each week to tend to them and, while you’re at it, having nice conversations with their owners.
Simply check the labels that are normally tucked into the soil for basic care instructions, and follow them to the letter. Or, to make your service even more personal, look up each variety on the internet, and print out any especially interesting information you may find—information about things like ideal fertilization schedules, repotting requirements, or the natural habitats of particularly exotic plants. Then share the details with their owners.
This service may require a minor investment on your part. For instance, I occasionally bring in distilled water and specialized fertilizer for one woman’s treasured orchid. But the costs are normally minimal, and if necessary, you could ask to be reimbursed.
Feed the birds: Some nursing homes allow you to set up and tend to feeders outside first-floor residents’ windows. Might that task be up your alley? If so, your efforts will be highly appreciated.
Feeders and seed are not cheap; nor is the suet so beloved by woodpeckers in our part of the country. So unless you’re able to underwrite the costs personally, you’ll need to discuss funding this project with your Activities Director.
But if the finances can be worked out along with who-does-what details such as feeder setup and procuring the food, you’ll be providing these residents with hour after hour of pleasure all year long. And you can make the experience even more enjoyable for them by researching the species that frequent their feeders, or by bringing in bird-watching books that you’ve picked up at the library or thrift stores.
Organizer: For any number of reasons, not all nursing-home residents are neatniks. But you could help one or more of them become and remain organized via periodic drawer-cleaning, closet-freshening and gleaning of important items from stacks of otherwise disposable papers and magazines.
As you proceed, you might find additional ways to serve a given resident—for instance, taking special clothing items home for hand-washing, ironing, or mending. And perhaps you could fetch a few file folders from the front office to create a potentially permanent fix for important papers.
Become a scribe: Some nursing-home residents love to correspond with old friends and family members. Yet as we age, our handwriting can become practically illegible, and even handling paper, envelopes and stamps can become a real challenge.
Maybe you could help with this task, by writing out cards and letters for a few residents, preparing the envelopes and making sure that they get mailed.
I spent nearly four years doing this for a woman with Parkinson’s disease. In her case, we created rough first drafts and then polished the words until she was satisfied. Finally, I’d write our final draft on handsome stationery; I kept her well-stocked by shopping the sales at high-style discount stores.
Another woman with an enormous number of friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren simply wanted to remember everyone’s birthday with simple greeting cards. For her, I found a month-by-month pocket folder and inexpensive packets of birthday cards at a local dollar store. Together, we organized it all so that at the end of each month, we could prepare the next month’s cards, complete with addresses, stamps and mailing dates noted on sticky notes; she then kept them on her bedside table for mailing on the appointed days.
What needs do you see? I’ve barely scratched the surface with these suggestions. Other valued services might include reading Scripture to the blind or making monthly runs to your local library for avid readers. If you start visiting nursing-home residents, you’ll no doubt spot many other ways you could be a blessing to each one.
Of course, any such services would need to be cleared ahead of time. In fact, that would be a good place to start, broaching your ideas to the Activities Director you report to.
Do you have other suggestions to share? If so, please let me know via this contact form or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.