The Volunteering Spirit

By Barb Vasiloff 

My friend has two children.  Anna is six years old and her brother Christopher is in the fifth grade.  For about a year, Christopher has been engaged in a school project in which students select an elderly person and become their pen pal.  Throughout the year Christopher exchanged many cards and letters with Martha, an aging woman who was in a retirement home.

During the holidays Christopher asked if he might visit Martha and meet her for the first time.  My friend was excited about having their entire family make this visit a part of their holiday activities.  They made gifts and bought fragrant soaps and other toiletries to give to Martha.

While the parents shared in this project, the work of phoning, talking to Martha and scheduling the visit was Christopher's job.

When he phoned the nursing home and asked for Martha's room number he was surprised to hear she had been moved to another room.  Worried, he asked if she could still have visitors.

Before he could even reflect on what he had heard, the operator put him through to Martha.

When Martha answered the phone the first words she heard were,  "Merry Christmas, Martha.  This is Christopher your pen pal."  Even over the phone it was evident that Martha had suffered a mild stroke and had difficulty talking.  Slowly, asking often,  "What did you say, Martha?  I couldn't understand you."  they arranged a meeting time.

Visiting Martha was a new experience for the entire family.  Anna sat quietly watching and observing, intuitively knowing something very special was happening.  Christopher held Martha's hand and told her about Christmas at his house.  The parents were mindful of Martha's energy level and kept the conversation light and easy going.

The visit lasted 20 minutes and in that time the five people in that room engaged in a new level of sharing the holiday spirit.  Anna summarized the impact of the visit as they walked to the car and headed home.  "I'm going to have a pen pal when I get in fifth grade too, Mom."

Reproduction of this article in whole or in part allowed with proper credit given to:

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