It all started with a teen “who walked into the room and expressed an interest in volunteering,” says Becky Johnson Blocksom, community engagement coordinator at Fairhaven Community, a full-service senior living community in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. After that, word-of-mouth took over, and the Teen Impact Program was born.
The program began about a year ago, but was formalized in March. It involves teens from nearby Upper Sandusky High School who volunteer to regularly meet and talk with Fairhaven residents. Some of the teens are interested in going into medical fields, but others just want to volunteer in their community.
“I feel sometimes that just sitting and visiting with another person has gone by the wayside in our fast-paced world. We’re missing the human touch. One way to learn about somebody is to visit with them,” says Blocksom. “What better way [is there] to teach these young people not to just get involved in an activity, but to get involved in someone’s life and their heart?”
Jordan Franz, and Upper Sandusky High School senior, says she was already thinking about giving back to her community when she was introduced to Blocksom.
“I’m very glad I chose here to start” volunteering, says Franz. “I was hoping for a group where we could interact with the residents and find fun things to do with them. That is exactly what we are doing.”
Some of the teens in the program visit specific residents once a week, or once every other week. Others randomly knock on people’s doors, starting conversations with, “How are you?” But all are providing an invaluable service to the community’s residents.
“Being around young people has been good for Fairhaven,” says resident Maury Logsdon. “We need our youth.”
Benefits Go Both Ways
The teen visits are tailored to the residents. Sometimes they do activities together; other times they just talk. Activities include games, birthday parties, reading, writing, sitting together outside, or watching TV, among many others. A couple of the teens go room to room and offer to paint nails, Blocksom says. It all depends on the individuals. But, she emphasizes, it’s the human contact that means the most.
“The short-term benefits for both teens and residents are to bring a smile and joy to their day,” Blocksom says. “Sometimes, the residents see improvements in their health or mental status. In the short term, the teens are just a presence for the residents. The teens bring kindness, respect, caring and dignity to our residents.”
Franz says she enjoys coming up with her own activities to do with the residents she visits. “You really get to know them and understand their lives by doing one-on-one visits,” she says.
The Teen Impact program has another important benefit for the senior citizens who live at Fairhaven. According to resident Pat Lust, “Teen Impact gives us something positive to think about.”
Later this month, Blocksom will hold an orientation for a new group of teen volunteers, many of whom are sophomores and juniors. “The seniors are going to be involved in the process by sharing why they got involved,” Blocksom says. Orientation includes a set of Teen Impact guidelines that each participant must learn.
“One of our criteria … is to learn how to visit,” says Blocksom, which includes knocking, walking into a resident’s apartment, and greeting the person.
“There’s a simplicity to it,” Blocksom adds. “It’s a matter of talking with your heart. Our residents deserve that kind of love and that kind of interaction, and the young people need to learn from older generations. It’s a good life tool and it will take them deeper into other relationships in their lives.”
Fairhaven Community is part of United Church Homes, a United Church of Christ CHHSM-member ministry based in Marion, Ohio.