A few months back, I saw an add on social media that caught my eye. The add was by a volunteer organization called Community Caregivers, a non-profit that provides assistance to elderly patients who can no longer perform activities of daily living. The add read “Do you enjoy giving back to the community and helping those in need?” As someone who finds joy in helping those who really need it, especially in my own community, I was interested in the volunteer opportunity and reached out to the organization. A few weeks later, I interviewed, was offered a position and upon accepting was provided with a few different options for getting involved:
1) Driver: drive those in need to and from doctors appointments.
2) Friendly Visitor: Visit with those in need and just provide them with social interaction.
3) Pick up groceries, prescriptions, etc..
After some back and forth between options 2 and 3, I ultimately decided on option 3 for a few reasons. First, I tried to imagine what type of help I would appreciate most if I was no longer ambulatory and unable to perform daily tasks. Ultimately, I decided that continuing to have access to food and medicine would be a priority. Second, I asked the director what services they needed the most help with, in which she indicated that they were short on drivers and shoppers. Lastly (and a bit selfishly), I find an oddly large amount of enjoyment from grocery shopping.
Fast forward a few weeks and I received my first assignment- an elderly gentleman named William who needed help retrieving his groceries and medications every other week. So, I decided to give William a call, introduce myself, and set up a time for me to come by and grab his grocery and prescription list. Here is a summary transcript of our conversation:
Me: Hello William?
William: Yes, this is William. Who is this?
Me: This is Alton with Community Caregivers and I’m going to be doing some grocery shopping for you, I was just calling to see the best time to come by?
William: Ah yes! Nice to meet you Alton, how does 2pm work?
Me: Perfect, I’ll see you at 2pm!
William: Great, thank you, and from now on, call me Bill, it makes me feel young again. Have a great day.
Me: Not a problem, Bill.
Bill: Bye-Bye now.
Two days later, I arrived at Bill’s house for my first day with the expectation that he would simply come to the door with his list, hand it over to me, and then return inside until I came back with his groceries. This was not the case, and I’m glad it wasn’t. When I arrived sharply at 2pm, Bill answered the door with a surprised look on his face and said “I thought we agreed on 3pm?!” At a loss for what to do (and being pretty confident we agreed on 2pm), I smiled and returned with “I must be early, my apologies William” to which he quickly replied with “Ah that’s okay, and call me Bill damnit!”
For the next 45 minutes, Bill made out his grocery list. After writing each item, he would put the pen down and talk to me about everything from my journey into medicine to his days at Yale and his love for sports. It was very evident that I was no longer just grocery shopping, this was a friendly visit as well. In that first hour or so, I learned that Bill is a simple man, but a lonely man. He is also extremely intellectual and sharp for someone in his late eighties. He lives alone, rarely gets out of the house and didn't mention any friends or family. I decided in that hour that I would be Bill’s friend, not just his grocery boy.
Why am I sharing this with you? For one thing, it’s certainly not to make myself out to be some type of altruistic hero. Rather, it’s to encourage you to ask yourself why you take on all you do in a day’s work? Do you really love what you do? Are you really benefiting from the time you spend doing it? If you volunteer, are you doing it for the right reasons? When I first accepted the position with Community Caregivers, the answer to this question would have been no. However, now that I have seen the enjoyment and assistance I can provide to Bill (and the enjoyment it provides me), I know that I’m doing it for the right reasons.
In summary, regardless of if you’re a pre-med student, janitor, lawyer, or house cleaner, always keep your why in mind. Do things that give yourself and others life, be okay with saying no to things that don’t make you forget to eat, and surround yourself with people who feel the same way, like my good friend Bill.