Carly is a new activities director at a large nursing home. Her duties also include managing their 20 occasional volunteers. When Carly was hired she received a good amount of training in providing activities. Her training in volunteer management consisted of being handed a list of names and numbers. She recently recounted something she discovered about volunteers over the holidays.
“We’ve always had people asking to come in when the holidays are near I’m told. They want to volunteer to play music or sing or do something associated with Christmas. It’s the only time they will be with me, but I really don’t mind. All the extra help is appreciated and given the fact that I have to coordinate activities as well as volunteers, I have to admit, it is a win-win for me. I pretty much stay with them while they sing or play, so I don’t have to worry about lengthy background checks for a one time volunteer appearance.
This past Christmas, I had two ladies who wanted to volunteer and play music for our residents. The first lady, Jewel, played the violin. She called me up one day and told me that she was driving by our nursing home and she wanted to meet me and play the violin for me. She sounded like it was urgent. I happened to have a few minutes free, so I agreed. She came in and told me she was basically still learning the violin but she had been practicing for some time and she played a few songs. It sounded quite nice, so I gave her a time to come back to play the following week. She called me two times before that to explain that her father had died in a nursing home in another state and that this was a tribute to him. She said that she was nervous playing so I politely listened and encouraged her to keep practicing. I felt like I was helping her too.
The other lady, Melanie, was just visiting relatives for a month or so. She came in and said that she could play the piano fairly well. As it turned out, she is a music teacher with years of experience and skills. She asked me if she would be of help by playing and I told her of course. I set up a time for Melanie to come in and I think it was the day after Jewel was to be here.
Jewel showed up and I took her down to the meeting room where we had a tree and decorations. I provided hot chocolate and the residents were sitting in their wheelchairs, some with family, some alone. We had cookies and several staff were on hand to help. Jewel brought out her violin and proceeded to tell us about how she began learning, how her father always loved the violin and how she had joined a group that was encouraging her to share her gifts with others. After several minutes, she began to play. I can’t remember what song it was, but she kept starting over. The residents and family members were getting restless and as Jewel started over again, a few residents motioned to our staff to take them out. Jewel did not seem to notice, but slowly, the room emptied. She was fairly oblivious to the audience, but continued to play as best as she could while they filtered out. I finally thanked her and she was giddy with pleasure at having played in front of so many people. I told her I would call her again later in the week.
Meanwhile, the next day, Melanie arrived and entered the same set up. I think the residents and family were pretty disappointed, because not as many were present. Melanie opened the piano and greeted the audience. She thanked them for allowing her to play for them and asked them if there was anything they wanted to hear. She proceeded to play all the carols and songs they enjoyed. Everyone was singing along and crying and laughing and Melanie kept referring back to them to make sure they were hearing what they wanted to hear. Little by little the room filled up again and everyone clapped long and hard. Melanie thanked us profusely for allowing her the privilege of entertaining us.
As we were exiting the room, Jewel showed up with her violin. I thought I would play again for a bit, she told me. I thanked Melanie and asked Jewel to accompany me to my office. I told Melanie I would love for her to come back if she was up for it and she agreed. I walked back to my office and closed the door and asked Jewel to sit down. I then told her that we already had someone lined up for today and that she could not just show up and expect to play. She seemed very upset with me. She again talked about her father and her practice and frankly, I’d had enough of her. I excused myself and told her I would be in touch. As she left, I was so shocked at the two different attitudes of these ladies. For one, it was all about her. For the other, it was all about the residents. I’ve not spoken to Jewel since but believe me I call Melanie often and she says she will come in every week until she leaves. If only Jewel were the one leaving and not Melanie, but sometimes, that’s just luck. I was just so shocked at how different the experiences were with these ladies. And it’s not like their talent made the difference, it was… well, it was their perception of their reason to volunteer that made the difference. Who would have known? From this experience, I think I will be just a bit more selective in the future.”