Small acts of kindness make a big difference

AgeWell Pittsburgh—a partnership of Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA)—aims to help seniors continue living independently while receiving support and maintaining connections to the community. Recognizing and valuing older adults’ community contributions and the gift of sharing their stories is at the heart of the services and supports offered through the program.

Among the programs offered through AgeWell Pittsburgh is AgeWell Visits, which provides caring volunteers who make friendly visits to seniors in their own homes in the East End. For some older adults who might not get out to activities as easily as they once did, they can enjoy spending time with volunteers, getting help with small household projects (like watering house plants or organizing photo albums) playing board games and having the newspaper read aloud to them.

What began as a program to help seniors stay connected to their communities as they age has become an enriching experience for volunteers of many generations.

For some older adults whose family may live far away, their visitors have become cherished friends, and they are now “adopted grandparents.” It is an opportunity for them to share family histories, local history and plenty of wisdom. One family began visiting with a Holocaust survivor whose family was not close by. Their two young children would play while the adults chatted every Sunday. The mother says she “can’t remember what my life was like before we met.”

A recently retired nursery school teacher regularly visits two older ladies in her neighborhood. She is a great baker and makes delicious treats from “old” recipes that these ladies love. They are reminded of their own youth, when their moms used to bake for them. A friendly and delicious visit!

Program administrator Ellen Leger takes the time to meet, talk with and assess each senior’s interests and needs, and suggests volunteers who would be a good fit. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds have connected for enjoyable visits.

Sometimes these relationships continue over time in very special ways. A pre-teen boy and his father who started visiting an older gentleman who was gravely ill ended up continuing the visits with his widow after he passed on. They now bring the rest of their family along, which has brought joy to all and helped with healing and bereavement.

Some volunteers offer practical assistance that helps the older adult to remain independent, such as reading the mail to people who are blind and helping to organize their paperwork. One such volunteer, an older man himself, reads the mail for his host then they go out for lunch together. Visitors have shared foreign languages, helped with shopping and learned how to sew. One volunteer visits a retired professor who has progressing Alzheimer’s disease. They were familiar to each other from the neighborhood and have children about the same age. Both the host and visitor are happy to spend time together talking, and just sharing quiet time.

The lesson of AgeWell Visits is that everyone has something valuable to contribute to the community, and that age diversity adds unique color and depth to every community fabric. This has produced a generational connection and flow that has enriched lives all around. 

AgeWell Visits are available to older adults in the East End area who meet eligibility requirements, depending on volunteer availability. If you would like a visit or are interested in becoming a volunteer, call Ellen Leger at (412) 422-0400 or email eleger@JFCSpgh.org. Even sharing one hour a month can make a meaningful impact and perhaps widen your family circle.

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