The sight of an elderly gentleman using a walker to navigate his way around an aged care home is not uncommon, but when you look a little closer and notice the lanyard and staff name tag, you begin to realise that what you are looking at is very special.
92-year-old Jerry Schneider may look like the average resident at the Hebrew Home Senior Living Facility, New York – but in reality, Jerry is actually volunteer.
Jerry first visited the nursing home in 2007 when his beloved wife became a resident after a cancer diagnosis.
“I would see her every day and wheel her around,” said Jerry Schneider.
“We used to see a lot of lonely people and my wife said, ‘You know, later on, you ought to volunteer.’”
Unfortunately, Jerry’s wife passed away after succumbing to cancer, but her wish to see her husband fill a void in the lives of other elderly residents through volunteering was kept alive by the couples son, who reminded Jerry about the idea.
Four years after initially walking through the door, and time spent grieving the loss of his wife, Jerry returned to the nursing home and signed himself up as a volunteer.
Although his intentions were good, initial reactions to Jerry’s presence in the home were met with a little bit of confusion by staff and residents alike.
“Some of them would just ask if I were a resident — what floor am I on, what room am I in?” Schneider said. “I’d have to say, ‘No, I’m only a volunteer.’”
“One person said, ‘But you’re 92. Why are you a volunteer? You’re too old for that,’” Schneider recalled. “And I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m here for you!’”
Despite the teething problems, Jerry’s age has actually proven to be a great asset in his role as a volunteer, as he has no trouble relating to other residents and reminiscing about the years before the internet and smartphones
Jerry’s presence at the home has had an immediate impact on all the people he interacts with, but one resident by the name of David Oscar has had a remarkably positive change in demeanor since Jerry’s arrival.
David was not very outgoing before Jerry arrived and was actually known for being a very quiet resident, but he looks forward to Jerry visiting every Tuesday and says that it really picks him up emotionally.
David has low vision, and Jerry often reads the news to David to ensure that he is up to date with current events as the pair spend their time together discussing news, politics, and sharing a joke together.
Which is evident from this lovely exchange between the pair.
“What decade were you born in?” said David.
“I was born in 1926,” said Jerry.
“26? Ok, I was born in 1932,” said David.
“Oh, you’re a youngster,” said Jerry.
While Jerry’s volunteering has obviously had a significant impact on the residents he spends time with, the 92-year-old New York native revealed that these visits have actually had a very positive effect on his life.
“This gives me a little extra life. I am meeting people here, talking. Otherwise, I’d have no one to talk to at home,” said Jerry.
With the negative effects of social isolation becoming so prevalent in the lives of millions of elderly people around the globe, stories like this illustrate just how important meaningful engagement is, and how grossly undervalued older people have become.
The impact of Jerry’s actions and those like him who choose to devote their time to provide unpaid emotional support to older people can not be understated.
And the best way to articulate that is by hearing from the residents themselves.
“Except for the fact that he’s a volunteer and comes to see me, I don’t have too many visitors,” said David.
“And so, I look forward very much to when he does come.”