Cat’s in the Cradle

Micaela Vaccaro - 1_squareYVC’s Marketing and Communications Intern Micaela is working to tell the YVC story this summer. She is a senior public relations major at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri, and desires to work for a nonprofit or ministry organization someday. Here is what volunteering means to her.

Last fall I discovered the meaningful impact that a volunteer experience can have on my own self-growth. Not only did I have the chance to serve others while I volunteered, but I also developed vital leadership, communication and problem-solving skills.

Most importantly, I formed relationships that influenced me in ways I never knew were possible. What is the result of combining six college students, a tattered guitar, and a group of senior citizens?

A new worldview.

Nodaway Nursing Pic (Jessica & Carmeka)

No Ordinary Class Assignment

I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Nodaway Nursing Home in Maryville, MO, as part of a class service-learning project. There was a total of six students in my group, and I was put in charge of organizing our volunteer efforts. When I contacted the nursing home activities director to ask what we could do for them, she said that they simply need people to spend time with the residents. Some of my group members felt uncomfortable about this certain volunteer opportunity, and one voiced her concern that we would not be able to relate to the residents. “What could we possibly have to talk about?” she said. “This is going to be awkward.”

Making the First Connection

In my experience with volunteer work, I have discovered that music is a universal language that can bridge gaps between groups of people. It seems to allow people to relate with one another, regardless of age or background. I thought it might help my group connect with the residents if I brought my guitar and sang a few songs to start us off. After playing some of my favorites in the nursing home’s dining area, I began to receive a flood of song requests. Artists included Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, and Elvis. The dining room came to life. Some residents rolled their wheelchairs closer to get a better look, others stood up and danced, and a few sang along. One gentleman by the name of Jim insisted that I learn to sing “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin and perform it the next time we came to visit.

YVCKC - elderly project from 2000s

Lessons Learned from Volunteering

As a group, we began to work out a system for when we would visit the nursing home. We paired off and split up, visiting one resident at a time. Each evening on the drive back to campus after our nursing home visits, my group members would gush about the stories that they had heard from the residents. Everyone wanted to share a life lesson that they had learned. Stories of love, war, happiness and pain. How the resident that they visited had overcome great trials, and what an inspiration they were. We slowly began to realize that the experience was becoming much more than just another class assignment. These people were now our friends.

The impact that can be made by simply spending quality time with someone is incredible. The activities director told our group that the residents had begun to ask about us in between our visits, and they looked forward to the time that we spent together. Even more so, the volunteer experience helped my team to drastically grow, both as a group and as individuals. We kept referring to the life lessons that we learned from the residents, and I believe that many of us will remember their wise advice for a long time. I had learned how to work efficiently with a group, how stepping outside of our comfort zones can create connections beyond any we can imagine, and that volunteering benefits everyone that is involved.

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Endless Volunteer Opportunities

You do not have to go far in order to find a meaningful volunteer opportunity. There are numerous opportunities in most communities, and sometimes they get overlooked. The need for human interaction is essential for the wellbeing of every individual. It became apparent through our interactions that this opportunity to experience companionship with a number of people from a different generation gave us a unique perspective that could not be easily gained any other way. Just as Harry Chapin outlines in “Cat’s in the Cradle,” spending time with others is essential, and if you allow “Not today, I got a lot to do” to get in your way, you can end up letting life pass you by.

Investing time in others is a way to bless, and be blessed. Take that first step. Volunteer! Escape your comfort zone and allow your personal development to begin.

As a youth, finding quality volunteer opportunities can be a challenge. Connecting with a local Youth Volunteer Corps can help youth engage in their communities and experience self-growth.

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