…written by Generations United Youth Jumpstart Grantee, Eric Bablinskas
“I’ve struggled to be someone who practices what he preaches. I am a high-minded idealist with a lot of dreams, but like so many others, I enjoy caring about things from a safe place. Yet, this weekend forced me into vulnerability. It made me uncomfortable. The prime area of discomfort, and coincidentally my favorite part of this weekend, was when we as a group visited the residents of the Sunrise Senior Living community.
Upon entry to the facility, our massive group was greeted by a handful of seniors playing Bingo. Some looked excited to see us. Some were indifferent. One woman was adamant about us leaving. At first I was put off by her. “I can move my own Bingo pieces myself,” she said stubbornly. “I don’t need anyone to help me.” Later someone told me she said that our group was there “two hours too long.” Here I was, a cheery idealistic Millennial, coming to brighten up someone else’s day by my presence, and she had put me straight in my place. How brave of her. And she was completely right. She didn’t need me to help her. She didn’t need me to fix her problems. Maybe there were too many of us in that small room. As so many young idealists learn the hard way, our goal is not to fix people’s problems. Our goal is to be a presence for people when they want our assistance. Our goal is to ask, “What does my community need?” We do not go in and say, “You have all the problems and I have all the solutions.” Rather, we humble ourselves with questions like, “What can I do for you? Is there any way I can help?” By giving us a first-hand experience of this, the program definitely exceeded my expectations for the weekend.
So often do we in the nonprofit world put those we serve into a demographic or a statistic. Going to the assisted living facility humanized the elderly whom we had spent the weekend talking about. One woman cracked me up with her insistence that she and I cheat at Bingo. “Just put it on B12,” she whispered in my ear. “I don’t think they’ll notice.” One man gazed off as he reflected on his days as a journalist in Portland, Maine. Yes, I want to engage older residence in my community for my not-for-profit’s project, but I also want to visit them for my own sake. There’s something very spiritual about talking to older people. They seem to be more present, more authentic, more real even in the face of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
There are so many older residents in my neighborhood. Many of them live in poverty. Most of them do not have easy access to healthcare or healthy food. I would love to change that. But first I must learn to listen and ask and be humble. The speakers at the convening assured me that this is the most important task. By listening, we empower others. By asking, others open up to us. My hope is that by letting older residents know that someone is listening, they will be more willing to talk. By being more willing to talk, they may be more willing to be involved. By being more involved, everyone will benefit. And, in this process, maybe I’ll make some friend, maybe I’ll gain some wisdom, and maybe we’ll see some generations united.”