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Compassion Changes Lives

Stories from the Adventures in Caring service-learning program in 2016/17

The following seventeen stories are small sample of the 10,000 heart-to-heart visits our team of 80 UCSB volunteer interns make on average each year.

The difference between a volunteer program and a servicelearning program is the ongoing reflection, dialogue, and coaching that build advanced capabilities. By reflecting on their visits in writing, and getting feedback, AiC volunteer interns continually improve their interpersonal communication skills, emotional maturity, and capacity for compassion.  By delivering such quality and quantity of compassion we are able to reduce distress, decrease social isolation, and restore seven key elements of well-being for 800 frail seniors in local nursing homes—more than 50% of whom have no other visitors.

Below are some excerpts from journals written by UCSB students after their rounds. It is perhaps the best evidence of how the Adventures in Caring program is changing lives.

  • Residents’ names are changed for privacy.

New Perspective and Ability

Something I’ve been noticing more and more, in talking to the residents, is that life finds a way of working itself out. Right now is a time in my life (senior year when you realize you actually don’t have it all figured out) when everything is incredibly uncertain. It took me until this year to even admit to myself that I have no idea what I’m doing, but a lot of my residents were the same way.

These residents still had incredible lives and tell me a ton of stories about their adventures and the things they love. They’ve lost people they love, and they’ve had hard times, but they still look back fondly on life. It just shows me how important it is to trust that life is going to happen how it is supposed to happen.

I’ve also noticed an advancement in my communication skills through this program. When talking with someone I can easily judge their character and from there understand how best to communicate with them. For example, I can tell which residents I can use humor or sarcasm with, and which residents I should talk to in a more serious manner. I can judge the same when speaking to staff. One activity director uses more humor than the other, and he responds well to me when I use humor. So I have been able to form much stronger relationships with both the residents and staff. Additionally, it takes certain skills to be able to communicate with some of the residents who do not make much sense when they speak.

Throughout this internship I have been able to see how really different dementia and Alzheimer’s are from one another. You never know what you are going to walk into when you enter a resident’s room, and because of this it really forcesyou to grow, not only in your communication skills, but also to grow overall as a person.

McCaul Prince, graduating in Biology, visits Casa Dorinda


Comforting the Soul

Jack isn’t doing well. He hurt his hip and is taking lots of medications. He spends a lot of time in bed and falls asleep often. I walked toward his room but found him sitting alone in the hallway. I knelt by him, greeted him, and held his hand. When I said I was glad to see him, he quietly asked me, “Why?”

I felt so emotional, realizing that he was so unsure of himself. I wanted him to know that he matters and is very much loved. I told him that I enjoy his company and reminded him of the time that we fed the fish together. His mood changed instantly. He smiled, and asked “Would you like to do that again?” Althoughhe still seemed tired, his facial expression told me he was much more content.

I got the fish food and took him outside to the pond. He watched them eat for a little bit before closing his eyes. When he opened them again, I asked if he wanted to stay or go back inside. He smiled again and said, “Stay.” He wasn’t talking much at all, but he seemed so calm as he sat with me and felt the warm sun. I took him back inside when he fell asleep completely. It’s hard to see so many of the people I care about doing worse as they get older. I hope the memories of the times we’ve spent together will comfort him.

— Nicole Delgado, graduating in Biology, visits Valle Verde


Surprises

At 97, James is still full of life and thoughtful as ever. “You feel like family” he told me, “if there’s any way I can help, just let me know.” I was taken by surprise, but I thanked him, politely declined his offer, and told him he was incredibly thoughtful. Then in came Bonnie looking terribly upset. I said “Hello Bonnie”but she was confused and kept asking, “Who’s Bonnie?” She looked terrified. As I was trying to make sense of what was going on, Mary looked over at me and said, “With all these advances in technology, we live a lot longer. But I wonder if we should. Our minds can’t keep up with our bodies sometimes. I think you should live your life fully then check out.” It surprised me to hear that from her. She has lived her life fully and doesn’t think she has much left to do, but she keeps her attitude positive and continues to make the most of the time she has.

— Gurshaun Clar, 3rd year, Biology major, visits Vista Del Monte


Moments of Influence

It’s a strange confession to make: I totally have. favorites, Audrey and Georgia, but I feel guilty when I see other people sitting alone. So I decided to mingle and try to meet more new people. But, of course, Audrey spotted me (I’m too hard to miss) and told me to pull up a chair with her, Georgia, and her son who was visiting from Texas. I sat with them and we talked about family, which was great because although Georgia always says she has five kids, she is never able to answer specific questions about them, but now her son could help her with the details.

At some point they asked me about myself and where I went to school. When I said I was a junior at UCSB, Georgia told me that they needed my contact information so they could go to my graduation. It was honestly one of my favorite moments ever. I never imagined that I would endear myself to people so much, and it meant the world to me that they made an effort to show their appreciation—even if next week they don’t remember anything at all about me. It definitely reminded me that it’s the small things that happen that can be the most influential.

— Marisa Matthews, 2nd year Biology major, visits Casa Dorinda


Beneath Appearances

I managed to visit Ms. Simpson in her room today. She is the resident who called me a clown and told me to go away when I first started volunteering. My impression was that she was unapproachable and angry. By chance I saw her in her room today and decided to knock and ask if she wanted a visit. The first thing she said upon seeing me was “Clown!” I had expected that response. But I wasn’t too. discouraged and laughingly agreed that I did kind of resemble a clown in my get up.

I had written in my journal a while back that I wanted to try interacting with her, to see how different she might be beyond surface impressions. Although I would greet her in the hallways occasionally, I never got the chance to pay her a visit until now. So today I knocked on her door and asked if she wanted a visit. To my surprise, she said “Yes!”

My visit with Ms. Simpson made me realize once again how different people can be beneath their exterior demeanors. I half expected her to tell me to go away again, but surprisingly she seemed eager for my visit. She was smiling! Until now I have only seen her frowning or displeased face. In society, I have grown so used to regulating my own expressions and expect others to do the same. Some residents in the care center are different though, so their expressions may be inconsistent with their feelings, more than I would expect. Looking back to all those times I ran across Ms. Simpson, she always seemed displeased and that tended to drive me away from her. As a Raggedy though, we should look past that exterior and get to know the actual person.

Conversing with Ms. Simpson was difficult, but I am glad I decided to approach her today. She seemed hard of hearing, and unable to understand me, so I could only do simple things like gesture at the flowers. She then gave one or two word responses. What mattered to me though, was that she showed interest inconversing with me. That motivated me to continue talking and continue trying different ways to reach her. Now that I know she actually welcomes Raggedy Ann, calling her cute and all, I will go visit her again and see if I can make an even better connect with her next time.

Sophia Yao, 3rd year Psychology major, visits Buena Vista


Just Like Me

It was good to be back. I got to spend time with a few of the residents I’ve gotten close with. I love that they all look forward to seeing me. One of them is 104 and she always remembers me. Her family lives far away and she says I’m the only one who always comes to see her every week. I also spent some time with a resident who is more difficult to talk to—she has a hard time formulating sentences. But she was able to say that she really enjoyed my visits. She too made the comment that a lot of people don’t get visitors, and that it’s wonderful that I come. I love that some of the residents, who most people consider not mentally there, still voice their appreciation. When I am visiting those who seem more mentally incapacitated I remind myself that there is still a person just like me in there. I think this is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned.

McCaul Prince, graduating in Biology, visits Casa Dorinda


Raggedy Skills in the Emergency Room

We see a lot of crazy things in the ER that make me appreciate all that Adventures in Caring has taught me. In fast-paced environments that demand quick responses, quick treatments, and quick diagnoses, it’s difficult to maintain compassion. Some doctors I work with really have a hard time listening to the backstory behind the patient’s chief complaints. But that challenge makes me all the more determined to open my ears and set aside my personal worries.

I remember a patient who came in by ambulance due to a stroke. After a CT scan of her brain we found she had a huge subarachnoid hemorrhage, and half of her brain was bleeding internally. The patient would never recover, she would never open her eyes again.

I didn’t know this patient before her stroke, but she reminded me of my friend Gregorio who I had visited so many times as a Raggedy—and the same potent feeling of compassion flooded through me. When her husband and sons arrived I shed tears with them, gave hugs, and expressed how sorry I was. In that moment the family needed someone who could console, listen, and show emotions rather than just mechanically saying sorry and walking away to the next patient. It’s moments like these that I thank Adventures inCaring for teaching me how tohelp others cope with grief,loneliness, and declining health.”

—Elizabeth Kuge, UCSB graduate and ER scribe, applying to medical school

Doctors, Listening and Trust

I’m becoming really good friends with one of the long-term patients. She is always excited to see me and always wants me to come back. Today, she and I had a great conversation about doctors. It was so cool to see what health care looked like from her perspective. She told me how important it was for a doctor to communicate well and gain the trust of not just the patient, but also of the patient’s family. She was disappointed that her own doctor didn’t seem to have these skills. Another lady joined our conversation and we ended up talking for an hour past my usual departure time. I notice that during these conversations, especially the longer ones, I really don’t do much talking myself. Only a sentence or two now and then, and the majority of the conversation is generated by the patient.

— Byron Rosenthal, 2nd year Biology major, visits The Californian


Real Alchemy

My visit today was more than words can even put together. It was much needed and I learned what it means to be patient. And let me tell you, it definitely paid off. I got to the facility at the usual time, and just about everyone was sleeping in the living room area. The only one’s that were awake were Grace, Loretta, and another lady who I had never met before. She was VERY angry. She was disobeying the nurses, wanted to get up from her wheelchair, spitting on the ground, everything you can think of she did in a span of 15 minutes. She kept yelling at the nurses, telling anyone and everyone to get her “the hell out of this place.” At one point in time she started to call everyone by names I should not repeat, basically just not having it. I asked the nurse if I was allowed to take her outside in her wheelchair, and she gave me permission, so I asked the resident if I could take her outside, and she agreed.

This resident, her name is Roberta. I was a bit nervous to talk and be around her due to the tantrum she just caused earlier, but I decided to step out of my comfort zone and take the initiative. We went outside, and although she was still angry, she told me to push her outside by the gate, by the chairs, around the facility, etc. So I did. She continued to give me attitude and was a bit rude, but I ignored that factor and remained calm, hoping she would too. She tried to convince me to take her out the “Exit” doors, but I ended up convincing her that each door leads to a  brick wall towards the trash, and she believed me (it is true). I wheeled her around the facility, and outside about ten times. I was okay with it and so was she.  At times she would be very rude to me, but I tried to make every insult a joke, and she seemed to enjoy my sense of humor.

After a while I would randomly ask her questions to see if it would distract her from how she was feeling, and it worked. I asked her if she knew different languages, and turns out she also speaks German and French! I told her I was learning German and all of a sudden she became super interested in me. She kept asking me when her father, and the “Santa Barbara people” were coming, but I told her I had no idea, hopefully soon, and she was content with that answer. Roberta seemed very anxious so I started to ask her about her father since she kept asking me when he would arrive, but she did not seem to happy to talk about that so instead we talked about places we have visited. She had told me she had visited France and Germany, told me of her love for tennis, and that her favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip. I was amazed at how comfortable she felt talking to me, and I could see her smile at me as we starting laughing. It was a completely different personality than the one I saw earlier in the visit. I am beyond happy that I took the time to be patient with her, andget her to talk with me.

After a while, I thanked Roberta for spending hertime with me. She told me I was able to come and talk to her whenever I wanted, and to never be afraid of her no matter how upset and angry she is. I laughed of course, but she has made me realize the beauty of patience.

When I first met her today, she actually called me “pathetic”, but did that stop me from trying? NO! I learned to be patient with people like Roberta. I am sure she has a lot of anger from just being at a facility she obviously does not want to be at, and I totally get that. Her anger wasn’t towards me, but towards the condition she is in. I can tell that she is very independent. It’s rough for many residents who have had busy, active lives, and now they are in a facility with no family, no loved ones.

I asked her for a hug (the first person I have ever asked a hug from) because I needed it, and she did as well. She opened wide and gave me a kiss on the check. It was amazing. I truly connected with Roberta and we had just met only two hours ago. She is such a great person, and the nurses thanked me for calming her down. I can’t wait to go next week and see her again! Hopefully we can have another bonding experience like today because I know she really needs it—and so do I.

— Lupita Peregrina 2nd year Linguistics & Global Studies, visits Alexander Court


Empathy: Fellow Feeling

Today was eye opening. I tried my best to be outgoing and loving, but found it difficult. I’ve been homesick and missing family lately. It’s frustrating. I’m in the middle of my second year and have never felt homesick until now. The crazy thing was me finding out that one of the residents was missing her family too.

I have always known that, like most residents here, she rarely has visits from family, but to actually connect with her through our shared experience of missing family was eye opening. She and I both shed a tear and held each other’s hands tightly. We bonded in this mutual feeling. It was simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking. It was good to not feel alone, for the both of us.

— Bethany Kohl, 2nd year Biology major, visits Heritage House


Heart Whispers

I’ve spent much time reflecting lately, reflecting especially on my many roles in life, such as, my role as a student, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and, most importantly for this program, my role as a Raggedy. I’ve come to realize that my role as a Raggedy extends beyond that of volunteer. For me the outfit transforms me into the best version of myself and gives me a face of compassion, quite literally. In it I am able to engage with the residents deeply and completely as we develop a relationship.

I was able to experience the power of connection in an encounter with a resident named Amy this week— but I nearly missed the opportunity. I was sheepishly meandering the long hallways hoping to peek into a resident’s room while they were awake, but to no avail. I walked over to get some water from the fountain, when suddenly I felt a strange pull to walk back the way I came. I didn’t know what spurred me but it was almost as if a little voice inside my heart whispered to me to check one last time before I moved on, and I’m glad I did.

The residents were still in the hallway where I had seen them before, and I was beginning to think that my second trek down it was just a whim, when, as I reached the second to last door down the hallway, I ran into Amy.

She was the first resident closest to the door and she was resting, but I decided to give it a shot so I knocked on her door with a gentle but firm “knock  knock.” She slowly opened her eyes and immediately a big grin danced across her face and lit up her entire world. She said, almost relieved, “Oh Raggedy Ann!” We then went on to have a conversation about her life when she lived back east and the harsh winters they had. We had an extensive conversation about camping, and before I knew it an hour had passed by.

She was so easy to talk to, it was actually like talking with an old friend! She was just pure joy; it reminded me of why I began volunteering in the first place. I started volunteering because I wanted to be the breath of fresh air for someone who lives amid the smoke, to be a listening ear for those forgotten or ignored, to be a friend to the lonely, and to be joy in the sadness. I have doubted my capacity to affect a change because I thought I wasn’t seeing the results, but looking back I don’t think I was looking for the right results.

I was expecting something grand but it isn’t meant to be grand it is simply the small essence that I was working towards. I guess I also didn’t have much faith in my own ability to really have an impact on the residents’ lives, but now I realize just how wrong I was. I recall a saying by Mother Teresa that nicely summarizes my realization, it reads: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” I love this quote and I think it applies to not only the pillars that hold up this foundation but also to the individual work the Raggedy volunteers do every week.

— Christina Ortland, UCSB 3rd year, pursuing Pharmacy, visits at Valle Verde


Attention and Connection

Today, I began to feel a little discouraged after walking down numerous hallways. People were either sleeping, eating, or preoccupied. However, the thought that I just need to touch one person kept ringing in the back of my head, so I continued on, determined to make someone’s night better.

Sure enough, there was a woman at the very end of the hall that I almost passed by. I walked to the door, introduced myself, and she invited me in. I could tell she had some dementia but she was able to hold something like a conversation.

We were talking when a nurse came in with her dinner. She just set down the plate and left. The woman was having trouble getting the salad onto her fork, and then into her mouth. Naturally, I began to help. And that got me thinking: if I wasn’t there to help feed her, would she not have eaten? Would she have struggled for double the time? Would anyone notice? It was nice to be able to help her but I hated the idea that staff had no time to notice these details. I realized just how important it is to simply pay attention.

My next visit was a shift in gears. She was completely lucid and coherent. We talked about everything from the news, to her husband, to her parents dying. It was wonderful to connect and hear about her experiences and viewpoint. Always a breath of fresh air to share such a genuine human connection.

— Briana Aboulache, graduating in Biology, visits Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital


Prioritize Love

Our world is fast-paced, our lives are hectic. It is a never-ending cycle of people to see, deadlines to meet, tasks to complete. I’ve come to accept that my life will never stop being busy. In fact, when I start working full-time and (hopefully) raise a family, my life will be even busier.

So, I ran through the door panting from this fastforwarded life and was hit by the quiet stillness at the nursing home. Time seemed to be in slow-motion, almost seemed as though time stood still. The residents don’t have deadlines, careers, or children to take care of. They have no more bills to pay; they don’t have much to look forward to. As I visited the residents, I wondered how Alzheimer’s patients perceive the passage of time. Is time no longer linear when we have no concrete goal to achieve? Nothing to reach for? The residents I’ve met seemed to have lost their sense of time completely, with no knowledge of today’s date or their age. Rather, their sense of time seems to be in fragments, only able to grasp the present moment.

I spent the last 20 minutes of my visit with Sandra (who is, admittedly, my favorite). Once she saw the red hair and my purple glasses, she lit up with excitement and immediately reached out her hand to grasp mine. I did not hesitate to embrace her affectionately. She said, “I didn’t know when I would see you again since you’ve been so busy.” She didn’t know it, but those words stung. I haven’t visited her in almost two months because I’ve been too busy running the race of life, never giving myself time to stop and reflect on what exactly I am running for. I realized that the most memorable moments in my life are actually at the nursing home holding Sandra’s hands, praying for one another. When she told me that she has been wondering about me, I was filled with regret. I can say with much truth that I love Sandra and it hurt me to realize that I have been neglecting her and all the other residents simply because I was “busy.” I don’t want to look back to my college years with regret that I didn’t cherish these times I have with the residents. I don’t want to run this race of a lifetime, only to realize that what I’ve been running for is not worth it in the end. Therefore, we need to invest in our relationships with people. We need to prioritize love.

Sarah Lam, UCSB 3rd year, Biology major, visits at Alexander Court

Stories from the Adventures in Caring service-learning program in 2015/16

The following seventeen stories are small sample of the 12,000 heart-to-heart visits our team of 90 UCSB volunteer interns make on average each year.

The difference between a volunteer program and a servicelearning program is the ongoing reflection, dialogue, and coaching that build advanced capabilities. By reflecting on their visits in writing, and getting feedback, AiC volunteer interns continually improve their interpersonal communication skills, emotional maturity, and capacity for compassion. By delivering such quality and quantity of compassion we are able to reduce distress, decrease social isolation, and restore seven key elements of well-being for 800 frail seniors in local nursing homes—more than 50% of whom have no other visitors.

Below are some excerpts from journals written by UCSB students after their rounds. It is perhaps the best evidence of how the Adventures in Caring program is changing lives.

(Note: residents’ names are changed to protect privacy.)

Commitment to Compassion

After volunteering at Heritage House for two years, Cottage Hospital for another two, and helping to teach other students along the way, I’ve been able to find my niche on this planet and realize how I can bring meaning to my life. This is why I want to become a physician. This work with Adventures in Caring has taught me skills in active listening, empathy and compassion. Now I’m able to go beyond myself and make a connection with others. I can be of service to others by employing these abilities in the framework of medicine.

⎯ Jason Gilbert, UCSB senior, currently applying to medical school


Turning Point

Today was my fourth visit and the first time I felt officially accepted in the facility as a “regular.” By now I know a good many people by name and they are starting to recognize me.

Ellie is such a sweet soul. She really appreciates my company and the fact that I remember to visit her every time I go in.

Today was special because it was her birthday and she was overjoyed to see me. “You’re my first visitor,” she exclaimed. This was at 3:00pm. Then I realized that I was there to keep her company on this lonely day. She told me, “You’re the friend I’ve been praying for, an angel to keep me company and help me through this difficult time of dying.”

I love Ellie, not only for her loving personality but also for the wisdom she chooses to share. Every time I go in she gives me advice about how to live with love, to seek wisdom, and to treasure youth. She shares beautiful stories of struggles, of her life’s loves, her past in Hungary, and her assimilation into the US. She is curious about my life and gives me advice about whatever I am struggling with. Today was a turning point for me because as I was leaving I gave her a hug and she whispered, “I love you, my best friend.” No words can describe what that meant to me today.

⎯ Brianne Kochanowski, UCSB junior,
Biopsychology, visits at Casa Dorinda


Friends Beyond Words

My perception of the elderly has changed. When I sat with Donna today at the table, she smiled and gave off a quiet chuckle. She looked at me and reached for my hands. She tried saying something but it was too inaudible to pick up any words. Once she realized that I was unable to understand what she was saying,we stopped talking altogether. To my surprise she wasn’t frustrated or bored in my presence. We sat together and exchanged plenty of smiles and laughs.  Looking back at our interaction I saw how beautiful it was. I can’t imagine just sitting and smiling with anybody outside of Alexander Court. How awkward would that be?

Yet, with Donna, I was perfectly content and the silence we shared did not feel awkward at all. I realized that the elderly were more than just the life they left behind and the stories they had to tell. Even though Donna was not able to tell me anything about herself, I was able to appreciate her at that present moment. I did not let the past or the future influence the way I saw her as a person. I feel it is a blessing to have the chance to realize this and to learn from the residents here every visit.

⎯ Sarah Lam, UCSB 2nd year, Biological Sciences, visits at Alexander Court


Loss and Healing

This week, I had a conversation with a woman who recently lost her husband. Remembering what I learned from our training, I asked about what kind of person he was and what memories she had with him. She told me how she met him after losing her friends during a night out, her wedding on the beach, and their travels to other countries. Later on she thanked me for allowing her to express her feelings because others had always tried to change the subject. I have never been in a situation where someone lost a loved one recently. It was really tempting for me to try to talk about something else.

Later on, I reflected on how I try to help people who are going through adversity when things are beyond my control. This conversation made me realize that even though I can’t change what happened, I can still help. Through the power of words and presence, it’s possible to make a situation better. Ultimately, I realized that it is hard to stand alone and face adversity, but having someone there to support you can make all the difference.

 Austin Corpuz UCSB


Deepening the Conversation

Josie is always overjoyed to see me, as am I to see her. English is not her first language and age prevents her from speaking loudly so there is a bit of a communication barrier, but we always have a good time. Our conversations get more complex every time I visit. They have become less repetitive, deeper, and more detailed. There is a sense of progress in our relationship—the more she trusts me, the more she opensup. “Aging is horrible” she told me. “I feel worthless, but I’m so happy when you visit. You make me feel important and you make my days interesting.” I realize how significant this relationship is to me, and how rewarding it is to be a Raggedy.

Danielle Gantar, UCSB 2nd year, Biology, visits at Casa Dorinda


Popping My Bubble

She asked me what day it was, but I didn’t think much of it because I forget the date all the time. But when I asked her about the card in her hand, and she didn’t know what it was or how it got into her hand, I quickly realized. The card was a Christmas card from what appeared to be her son and his family. I asked who it was from, and after a little bit of thinking, she told me it was her son. I asked if the kids in the picture were her grandchildren. She said she didn’t think so, but that they “must belong to someone.” That was the moment that really got to me. I had never interacted with someone with Alzheimer’s until then, and it was chilling to hear how much she didn’t remember.

The jumpsuit she was wearing was all pink, so I asked if that was her favorite color. She said she didn’t know. And after a couple more similar questions I was kicking myself. She didn’t know the answers to most of my questions, and I was struggling with what to ask. I learned that silent presence sometimes the best way to be there for someone. When I left she took my hand and kissed it, and asked me to come back to visit her. Her candidness was endearing and is a rarity in my usual daily interactions. This visit burst my college bubble in the best way possible, and I am eager to visit and meet more elders.

Sarah Raskin, UCSB 2nd year, Biology, visits at Vista del Monte


Training New Raggedys

Leading three new Raggedys on their first visit and seeing them interact with the elders was refreshing. I remember thinking to myself how much joy a little doll can bring, something that is unusual and radiates a level of friendship that is so hard to find. It was humbling to hear from one resident that if I did not dress up as Raggedy, I wouldn’t have permission to come in and talk to him. His roommate agreed and gently smiled. It was incredible to see the two of them conversing with the four of us Raggedys—for 20 minutes!

I want to take a moment to thank Adventures in Caring for putting so much effort into delivering a perfect message of compassion and authentic love, for showing us that we are capable of healing even when we don’t have everything together or when we aren’t the best at speaking, and for remindingus that learning how to care for another requires a heart that understands—and it can only be obtained through practice.

Jacelyn Vo, UCSB 2nd year, Valle Verde


Finding the Beauty in Aging

As I was leaning in closely our cheeks almost touched, I saw every wrinkle on her face, her eyes, and her faded blond hair. She struggled to talk, but pushed through to complete the few sentences that she wanted me to hear.

By the end of our conversation, she was almost out of breath, but I could see the relief that was communicated through her gentle smile. I realized that by literally just being there with open ears, I was able to pick up some of the weight on her chest and remove some of the suffering she had been carrying  for the longest time.

I saw a kind of beauty in this lady that I have never seen before. I saw beauty in the way she speaks and in the way she was helping me realize the kind of friendship that I truly desire to have.

I walked out of Valle Verde today with the confrontation of old age. I thought about how fast time flies and how soon it is that each one of us will have to face the loss of many of our possessions, family, friends, money, our ability to stand, walk, and talk. By then, will we be able to see beauty in the little things we have left? The thought made me tear up, but at the same time, I felt so fortunate to finally find the real source for my happiness: to be able to love entirely and completely someone I barely even know.

Jacelyn Vo, UCSB 2nd year, Valle Verde


Caring for the Whole Person

When I signed up for Adventures in Caring, I had no idea that kind of impact it would have on me emotionally as well as the role it would play in my career choice. First and foremost, Adventures in Caring taught me how to be a compassionate listener. It’s one thing to walk into a room without permission and start a conversation about a topic that comes to mind. It is another skill entirely to ask permission to enter, to let another person guide the conversation, and to listen without judgment or interruption.

The friends I visited taught me so much that I never would have learned without being Raggedy Ann andgiving them the opportunity to tell me their stories,fears, and dreams. The first time I visited my nursing home, I had noidea what to expect. As it turned out, many people were anxious to open their hearts to someone, I could feel their sense of relief as we talked. Some of the patients I talked with never had visitors. Some had friends and family visiting everyday. Yet for both types of people, few had someone who they could just sit with.

Every week, I visited my friend Jenny. Jenny was younger than most of the patients, but I watched her health deteriorate every week we met. Sometimes she would sit up in bed and tell me stories about her days as an actress. Other days she labored to talk and often drifted off to sleep mid-sentence. When she was in pain, she told me the morphine wasn’t enough and that she wasn’t ready to die. I’ll always remember how exhausted she looked from fighting her illness,yet how fearful she was for it to end forever.

My experience as Raggedy Ann was a humbling one. I felt like I was part of something much greater than just me. We all have to die, but it is a privilege to live and die with dignity. I learned that the most important thing to experience at the end of life is affirmation. People want to share their lives with others and feel a sense of worth. I think this is universal. Everyone is humbled in the face of death,and I feel fortunate that I was able to experience this with those I visited.

My experience as a Raggedy Ann contributed to my decision to pursue nursing. Volunteering with Adventures in Caring was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It introduced me to the emotional side of health care. Some days were emotionally draining, but it was also the most rewarding experience I had in college. Raggedytaught me that health care is about caring for the whole person. We are complex beings and we require more than just medicine to be well.

As a nurse, I will use what I learned to help my patients feel like people rather than patients. I will treat others as I would want to be treated. Adventures in Caring gave me the tools that I will use to continue caring for others my entire life.

Maddy Evancie, Microbiology, B.S. UCSB Class of 2013. Currently: Accelerated Bachelor of Nursing program, University of Miami

Intergenerational Impact

When I started volunteering as a Raggedy, I wasn’t expecting to be tested on my ability to connect with a variety of people, or to make so many relationships with a generation I would otherwise never have met if not for the Adventures in Caring program. The biggest lesson that I will take with me when I become a doctor: to make an impact on someone, you need to listen.

I loved Jorge for letting me sit at the foot of his bed as he shared his stories about how valiantly he fought during World War II and how he met the love of his life, and also for listening to my stories and being interested in my emotions. He was the person who taught me the meaning of being compassionate. He suffered for years not being able to walk, and not being able to have a silent, unmoving moment, but he listened to me when I had a bad day.

Jorge will always be the first patient I had ever lost. And from his passing I had to learn how to cope, and learn whether or not I was mentally and emotionally strong enough to handle the deaths of future patients when I became a doctor. I learned that I cannot save everyone, and there will be people who I will have to let go of.

Jorge was one of them. But because of him and because of this program, my conviction to become a doctor is stronger. The lessons I’ve learned in caring about people, about listening, about showing and earning compassion, are invaluable to my future career as a physician.

Some people, when you first meet them, you think won’t really have much of an impact on your life…won’t really leave their mark. But there’s that quote that says that people might forget what you say, and they might forget what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.

⎯ Elizabeth Kuge, UCSB senior, currently applying to medical school, visits at The Californian


Win-Win

Fiona always tells me that the visits from a Raggedy are transformative for her. She says that she barely makes it through the week, but feels encouraged, often to the point of tears, bythe companionship of a Raggedy. I also profit greatly, gaining perspective, humility,and a clearer mind; and,some relief from the pressure of school by entering the slower pace of the senior life. These visits are as good for me as they are for the people I’m visiting.

 Alec Barrios, UCSB 1st year, visits at Alta LuceroTransitional Care


First Steps

Today was my first day as a Raggedy Ann. So powerful! Such a unique and beautiful experience that words don’t do it justice. Getting into the costume I could feel myself losing my sense of self pride. The most shocking thing was how many emotions I was experiencing: excitement mixed with nervousness, happiness mixed with empathy and sadness, confusion mixed with joy. You name it I was feeling it. It wasn’t until I was left alone with a small old women in the Alzheimer’s ward that I really felt the power of what I was doing. She couldn’t speak, she only mumbled, but her body told me she felt as though she was actually conversing, so I went with it. At one point she started singing. No words, but the tune and the emotions were there. I acknowledged what a beautiful voice she had. From a spectator’s point of view I probably looked like I was talking to myself, but as we built our “conversation” I could feel her present within it as she spoke to me through her eyes. This experience taught me so much about compassion, about connecting with others, and a lot about myself.

 Brianne Kochanowski, UCSB junior,
Biopsychology, visits at Casa Dorinda


Changing Lives

What made my visit memorable was a resident suddenly saying: “What you are doing is changing our lives because you warm our lonely hearts. Please thank the people who run this organization because what they are doing is just absolutely beautiful. Residents here feel trapped because we have no choice, but the visits by Raggedys help us escape that feeling because we can talk about anything with Raggedys.”

Helen Hwang, UCSB 2nd year, visits at Buena Vista


A Breath of Fresh Air

I was heartbroken to hear that a friend of mine in elementary, middle, and high school had passed away this last weekend in a horrible car accident. I was in a sensitive emotional state for the rest of the weekend—but volunteering this week helped me put life into perspective.

When I entered the facility, amongst the chaos of the nurses rushing to fulfill their duties and the residents participating in the day’s activities, I better understood the purpose of my mission and the mission of Adventures in Caring. I felt more prepared to truly feel with the residents, to suffer with them in whatever they may be going through, because we are all broken in our own ways, but we carry that brokenness and pain differently.

I felt more able to embody the image I displayed: Raggedy Ann, who is one’s comfort and security when there is none. And I was surprised to hear that my presence had not been overlooked—even though I have not met some of the residents yet, they havenoticed me. My epiphany was this: you don’t always have to visit with someone to make an impact, sometimes a simple hello and smile will do.

My small investment of time spent visiting is a small price to pay to not only allow someone else to feel the joy of companionship in a conversation or a moment, but to also allow myself to feel the joy. It was like taking a breath of fresh air in a world full of smoke. This visit did more for me than I ever thought it possibly could, and it was all because I showed up and let it happen.

Christina Ortland, UCSB 2nd year, Biology, visits at Valle Verde


Kind Stranger

Eleanor is a very frail, very sweet woman, with a small voice and a thick French accent. She struggles to articulate her thoughts in English, but her tireless effort is admirable. Even with her old age, she continues to find enjoyment in little things like putting on a rosy lipstick, getting her hair done, or picking out what rings she wants to wear that day.

Each time I visit Eleanor, she says she remembers me, though I know she often doesn’t. Like many of the other residents in the nursing home she is struggling with memory loss and dementia. So every time she forgot who I was, I would introduce myself as I always do, and get to know her once again. Today, however, she taught me that there is much significance in being nothing more than a kind stranger to someone.

When I walked into her room and kneeled beside her wheelchair, she greeted me with a wide smile that I reflected back. As with most of my visits with Eleanor, we exchanged some introductory words, and then I sat back and let her run the conversation whichever way she wanted. She loves to talk. After some time, her attitude changed from a youthful giddiness to an old insightfulness. She began to speak while looking at me directly in the eyes; something she had avoided most of the times I’d held a conversation with her.

While she spoke I felt as though she was speaking to me from the heart rather than for the sake of conversation. She told me how loved she felt by God and how she knew she had everything she needed. She told me that although she was old and could not do many things anymore, she was happy with what she could do. She told me that she was glad that we didn’t know each other very well, and that she only told me these things because of that. She went on and on about how appreciative she was for me to visit because she never gets any visits anymore and when the nurses come in they don’t seem to want to talk to her. She expressed to me that my time spent with her was one of the best gifts from God.

Through her broken English, Eleanor managed to communicate with me that she was often lonely, and all she wanted was a person, a stranger, to be kind enough to just sit and talk and pay attention to her.She knew something that I am just beginning torealize—that sometimes it’s much easier, and sometimes even sweeter, to talk to someone you don’t know too well about what’s on your mind.

Whether family, a close friend, or even a stranger, somehow, someway each person or role is important. I am thankful for each time that I meet Eleanor, because she is that kind stranger to me, and I am so grateful to be that kind stranger to her.

Jacqueline On, visits at Casa Dorinda


Raggedy Skills for Nursing

I just wanted to let you know that I was accepted to four schools, but will be attending CSU East Bay at the Concord campus in September to get my second Bachelor’s in Nursing. I am beyond excited and grateful to be pursuing my dream. I can’t say enough how much Adventures in Caring has prepared me for this profession. To this day I am still using skills I learned as aRaggedy at my job in HomeHealth Care, and I know I will continue to utilize my knowledge as a nurse. The compassion and communication skills I learned are invaluable. Adventures in Caring will always have a special place in my heart.

Victoria Pennacchio, UCSB graduate


Raggedy Skills for Physical Therapy

On my last day of work as a Physical Therapy Aide a patient came through the door with her hands pressed to her temples looking as if she was about to cry. It was clear that she was in pain. The physical therapist I work with noticed her and greeted her as he always had, “Good morning! How are you feeling?” to which she replied, “Not good!” Her response made the physical therapist uncomfortable and he was unable to respond. So he motioned me to help her to her room. In the room I placed my hand on her shoulder and told her I was sorry she was in so much pain. She looked at me and tears started coming down. She began to tell me how she got into a car accident a year ago and had head trauma as a result. It was terrifying because she felt she was losing so much of herself and had even developed an Italian accent that she never had before the accident. At the end of her visit, she came up to me and hugged me tightly. I was so taken aback because this kind of intimate connection with a stranger was pretty muchnonexistent for me outside of being Raggedy at Alexander Court. That day, I never felt so thankful for all the things Adventures in Caring has taught me and how something as simple as compassion can have such a powerful impact on someone.

Sarah Lam, UCSB 2nd year, Biological Sciences, visits at Alexander Court


This program and the benefits it produced happened thanks to the support of the following wonderful people and organizations (partial list):

Anne Alverson Ker & Alex Massengale
Ann Jackson Family Foundation Virginia Mayer
Georgette Bening Mimi Michaelis
Paula Yurkanis Bruice Montecito Bank & Trust
Casa Dorinda Sherry Morez
Vikki Cavalletto Jill & Steve Morris
David Chernof Mystical Order of Saint Peter
Paul & Rebecca Choi Margaret Norvell
Joan Churchill Oshay Family Foundation
Linda Corniea Priscilla Peak
Scott & Grace Crudele John Rasmussen
Robert Dibley Paul Ryan
Sheri Dillon San Ysidro Pharmacy, Inc.
Chad & Ginni Dreier Santa Barbara Doll Club
Lendon Everson Marty Santos
Eileen Fehskens Simone Schapker
Regina Fletcher Christiane Schlumberger
Karen & Simon Fox Sheri Shields
Barbara Giorgi Laurie Small
Kim Gruelle Tana Sommer-Belin
Valerie Guerrero Ann Terrell
Stacey Hansen Towbes Foundation
Heritage House Group Arleen Twedt
Glen & Sharon Holden Valle Verde
James S. Bower Foundation Vista del Monte
Freia Kalman Williams-Corbett Foundation
Kei Lin Foundation Bert & Geri Willoughby
Latkin Charitable Foundation Wood-Claeyssens Foundation
Sarah Maiani E. Pia Woolverton
Barbara Marsh

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Glen Holden, Jr. CFA, PRESIDENT
Paula Bruice, PhD, VICE PRESIDENT

 Sherry Morez, RN, SECRETARY
Linda Alderman, MEd
James Blascovich, PhD
David Chernof, MD

Karen Fox
Steve Hoyt, RPh
Sharon Landecker, MA 

Jill Morris
Laurie Small