Compassion Changes Lives

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

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

The difference between a volunteer program and a service-learning 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. Here 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.)


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 Valle Verde.

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?”  Although he 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

Prioritize Love

Our world is fast-paced, our lives are hectic. We are so busy that we feel we are in a race, running from place to place. It is a never-ending cycle of people to see, deadlines to meet, tasks to complete. If I hang on a little longer, will I finally have a comfortable, stable life and all the time in the world? 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 fast-forwarded 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 Savannah (who is, admittedly, my favorite). Once she saw the red hair and my purple glasses, she lit up with almost as much excitement as I had to see her. She immediately reached out her hand to grasp mine, and I did not hesitate to embrace her affectionately. My heart melted with love and guilt when 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 me. 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 Savannah’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 Savannah 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 4th year, Biological Sciences, visits at Alexander Court

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 visits Casa Dorinda