Golden Years

     When I saw the help-wanted ad in the Stoneham Independent for  Weekend Activity Assistant at Brightview Senior Living facility in Woburn, I thought I’d reply and try to arrange an interview. The job description sounded interesting. “Activities” is such a broad term I had no idea what it might entail. If nothing came of it, at least I could practice my job interview skills. I wasn’t prepared for the life-changing experience that followed.

I was mildly surprised when I found out I had been granted an interview.I don’t know what I was thinking. The career path I’ve chosen as a graphic designer is the furthest thing from the medical profession. I wasn’t even sure what an Activity Assistant was. Yet something told me to give this a try. It sounded a lot better than working nights in the paint department at Home Depot.

I could tell during my interview at the senior home that the manager was looking for someone with an experienced medical background. I told her I was the father of  two boys and I handled all their medical emergencies with flying colors. She asked if I had experience with elder care. I answered, “Yes. My parents lived well into their eighties and nineties and I took really good care of them.” I told her I was patient, resourceful and creative and I would love the opportunity to supervise activities for the senior residents.

I must have said something right. I wasn’t the most qualified candidate, but I was probably the most enthusiastic. Maybe it was because I didn’t flinch when I was asked how I felt about driving a 12 passenger bus full of senior residents to church on Sunday mornings. Who wouldn’t love doing that?

I was impressed during my tour of Brightview. The building is new and modern –  from the giant high-definition movie screen in the Club Room to the state-of-the-art flat screen TVs in the exercise room and the pub. Yes, the building has a fully stocked Irish pub where monthly beer and wine socials are held for residents to mix and mingle.

When I was offered the position, I worked out a weekend schedule with the Activities Director. I happily started preparing activities to fill various time slots during the day. I conduct a Saturday morning exercise class, followed by an informative weekly news recap called News & Views. I keep the residents up to date on national and world matters with my entertaining weekend update, which always leads to spirited political discussions. Saturday afternoons, residents meet for Poker Club in the Pub (or Poetry in the Pub depending on the week).

Sunday morning is set aside for church-goers, where I drive residents to their house of worship in a gigantic 12-passenger bus. It feels good to be the person responsible for helping residents keep their religious obligations (hopefully earning me a few extra points with the Man upstairs). I told my passengers  they were in good hands with me behind the wheel because my father was a truck driver. One of the passengers in the back of the bus responded, “What’s that got to do with your driving?” The seniors may be elderly but they’re still sharp as tacks.

Weekend afternoons are often spent supervising art projects featuring collage design, custom greeting cards, or cartooning. Some weeks I conduct seminars on true life stories of famous historical figures or Hollywood celebrities. Recent popular programs included The Untold Story of Natalie Wood and The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe.

My director green-lights most of the activities I create. I’m doing something a little different from what you find in typical assisted living homes. The residents’ response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve found a whole new audience to entertain. And their humor and spirit entertain me as well.

I take pleasure in making someone’s day a little brighter, especially this forgotten segment of our population. The elderly have been relegated to society’s back-burner in our youth oriented culture. If I can expose residents to things they might not ordinarily encounter, then I have done my job. And the seniors appreciate anyone who takes the time to acknowledge them as vibrant people who still have a lot to offer.

This month marks my one-year anniversary working at the Brightview Senior Living facility. On Saturdays and Sundays, when my work day ends, I leave the senior home with a sense of accomplishment. To touch someone’s life and make a difference in their world, even for just a few hours a week, is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Not many people leave their jobs at the end of the day feeling better than they did when they arrived. And hopefully the residents I leave behind feel a little better as well.

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