Clarke Norman is a sophomore nursing student at St. Louis University, and she was looking for an opportunity to volunteer with seniors because she thought about specializing in geriatrics. This led her to Visit-A-Bit, a senior volunteer program through the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA) that pairs seniors with volunteers who want to make meaningful connections and prevent senior loneliness. Clarke was paired with blind senior Riley Williams, and the two quickly formed a friendship.
Clarke found Visit-A-Bit through a volunteer fair at her school. She knew going into it she was interested in geriatrics, so a senior volunteer program that gave her first-hand experience working with that population excited her.
Riley found out about Visit-A-Bit through his therapist, who recommended it because he’s mostly housebound and wanted an opportunity to socialize. The two signed up in the summer of 2021, though before Riley was paired with Clarke in September, he also participated in virtual bingo, which Visit-A-Bit facilitates.
Making Genuine Connections
Because of COVID-19, both Clarke and Riley feel more comfortable having their visits via phone. Early conversations revolved around Riley’s health issues as he wanted to give Clarke an idea of some of the things she might come up against as a geriatric nurse, but conversations have become more personal as they fill each other in on their lives and stories. For example, Clarke learned about Riley’s blindness and passion for travel; he became blind in his early 20s but still traveled the world into retirement. It’s rare that senior volunteer opportunities allow for this depth of knowledge and connection.
Mutual Life Changing
“These visits have given me inspiration and a purpose in the mornings that I get up and have a visit. It has gotten me more involved in socializing with people I never would have met in my life,” says Riley.
The feeling of inspiration goes both ways as Clarke has found herself inspired by Riley’s travels and resiliency in the face of a serious disability.
“When he told me about how adventurous he was, I realized how much I aspire to be like that,” says Clarke. “One time last semester, I decided to go to Chicago on a whim for fall break with no planning or anything. He inspired me to do that, and it ended up being the best trip!
There are many senior volunteer opportunities out there, but Visit-A-Bit has proven to have a lasting impact on its participants and seniors as illustrated by Clarke and Riley’s friendship. The two were nothing but enthusiastic when asked if they thought other people should take part in this senior volunteer program.
“I always tell people I know to try the program,” says Riley. “I think that it’s for anybody who really wants to socialize, and this is about socializing, not just getting on the phone. What I would share is that everyone involved in Visit-A-Bit is fantastic, including the workers. Without them, I wouldn’t have met Clarke. Everyone is so kind and patient.”
“I would say if you enjoy talking to people or want to make a new friend who can also give you advice on life, you should do Visit-A-Bit,” says Clarke. “I tell all my friends about what I do, and they all think it’s so cool. It can be scary talking to a stranger, but it is worth it.”
For more information about the Visit-A-Bit senior volunteer program, contact Michele Prevedel at (314) 918-7171 ext. 1274 or at email@example.com.