Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Impact of Volunteering

Last Thursday, across the United States, the real estate company Keller Williams sponsored RED Day.  Each office has its own projects and activities that aim to renew and energize aspects of the neighborhoods in which they serve.  RED Day initiatives can include refurbishing local parks, giving to food shelters, rebuilding homes, hosting blood drives, or any other project based on a need they see within their community.

I was contacted by Laurie from Keller Williams (in Maple Grove, Minnesota) after she called my parents' church and asked if there may be a family who needs some assistance.  In talking with Laurie, I shared with her some of the ways they have shared their time, talents, and gifts with others.  

My dad used to be the Deacon of his church.  He and my mom were one of the original families who founded the church in the mid-1970s. 

My dad when he was in the seminary to become a priest.
He changed his mind, and later went through training with my mom
to become a Deacon in his church.

Since that time, they both started and led activities and trips with the Gad-Abouts - a senior group at their church.  They stopped leading the group a few years ago due to my mom's mobility issues.

My mom co-started and continues to host the Angel Quilters at her home bi-weekly.  The ladies made quilts that are donated to people who are homeless, been through a natural disaster, or who were in domestic violence situations and are starting thier lives over.

My dad with my brother (right side) and
neighbor/my brother's friend (left side). 
They both became Eagle Scouts while my dad was their Boy Scout leader.

For his career, my dad was a school social worker at two different schools (senior and junior high).  He was a Boy Scout leader, and helped guide many boys to becoming Eagle Scouts.  He led many trips to northern Minnesota as well as throughout the U.S. to help boys learn how to camp, fish, and gain outdooor skills.
He was a Big Brother (as part of the Big Brother/Little Brother program) to many boys who are now men in their 50s-60s. 

My mom led Girl Scout troops, a 4-H club, and has volunteered in many ways through her church. 

Currently, they are both facing health challenges - my dad with Alzheimer's Disease, and mom with mobility issues, diabetes, and vision problems.  They would like to stay in their home, but the upkeep as well as several features make it challenging. 

Keller Williams stepped in and made many improvements to their home to make it safer for them plus help with outdoor maintenance which had been done as well as in the past due to my father having Alzheimer's Disease, and the impact it has had on his skills and abilities.

I was there for the entire day while work was being done by over 30 volunteers.  It was with great joy that I was able to see members from the community give back to my parents - two people who have given of themselves throughout their entire lives.  It was one of most inspiring and meaningful days that I have ever experienced.

My dad is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, and was having a difficult day initially.  He was very confused and concerned when the volunteers began arriving.  However, when he had the opportunity to walk outside and talk with the volunteers from Keller Williams, he was put at ease by their care and compassion. 

Several volunteers talked with him one-on-one, and provided assurance to him that what was important to him in the garden and yard would stay right there so he could continue to enjoy it.  They affirmed who he is…and acknowledged all the work that he had done through the years.  This was incredibly meaningful, and helped him be more comfortable with and enjoy what was happening that day.

Keller Williams asked several contractors to help address some of the safety issues in the home.  Different individuals worked on various projects, depending on their specialty.  During the day, handrails were installed on the staircases, grab bars were intalled in the shower, a gate added to the vegetable garden for safer access (so my dad wouldn't step over the existing fence and fall like he did last summer), and the dock repaired.  Having these items addressed provides a tremendous amount of comfort and peace of mind to my sister, brother, and me. 

Two new grab bars were placed in my dad's shower
to make it safer as he ages and
deals with the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. 

My parents hope to stay in their home (rather than go to a nursing home), and these improvements to their home and yard will make it much safer for them to stay there.  The double handrails on the staircases also will allow my mom (who has a lot of difficulty walking) to be able to access both floors of the home which was challenging…at best…before the new handrails were installed.

New handrails in my parents' home to make it
safer and more accessible.

A company that Keller Williams contacted donated its time to cleaning my parents' windows. My mom is still talking about the windows and how clear and beautiful they are, now that they are washed.  What a tremendous difference clean windows can make! 

Volunteers also created a bird watching area for my dad which has already brought him a lot happiness. He loves to see them eat and drink water.  As his disease has progressed, he has been spending more time sitting in the chair by the window. 

Now, having all the bird feeders and bird bath set up close to the window so he can see the birds is wonderful, and gives him something to talk about with us as well as his friends at Open Circle (the adult day care program he attends in Hopkins)!

My dad by his new birdwatching area.

Volunteers also made meals at Let’s Dish for my parents so my mom could simply bake meals when her energy is low or she's in pain. Having these dinners will be invaluable to making sure that she and my dad are eating nutritious food. 

Out of curiosity, I looked up RED Day and learned it was an acronym for Renew, Energize, and Donate.  (I thought it simply reflected the color of the Keller Williams’ logo.)  When I read that, I felt like that truly was the perfect description of what happened this past Thursday. 

Collectively, everyone who donated their time and skills on RED Day at my parents’ home renewed their spirit.  My mom, who is my dad’s primary caregiver, has many days that are filled with challenges, disappointments, and grief as she’s watching her husband – the man who she has loved for almost 47 years – progressively lose more skills almost on a weekly basis. 

Volunteers Helping My Parents
Volunteers working in the rain on the flower gardens
and backyard at my parents' home on RED Day.

That being said, for her to see so many people from Keller Williams have such positive and uplifting spirits – to be literally singing in the pouring rain – to be so focused and hard-working – to be dedicated to finishing the job despite their clothing being soaked with rain – these are the things that will continue to inspire and motivate her on even her most difficult days.

From left to right: Laurie (from Keller Williams), my dad, my mom
me, and Belidna (from Keller Williams).

As my mom looks at the flowers blooming, and the hostas and perennials growing; as she’s enjoying fresh vegetables from their garden; as she’s watching her grandchildren dip their feet and hands in the lake from the dock…she will always remember and see the many people who came forward to make a difference in their lives. 

By providing well over 100+ hours of time with this project, the volunteers have energized our entire family.  As my father’s health and skills continuing to decline, his ability to maintain the yard has decreased considerably – even from last season to this one.  The outdoor work would have fallen on my sister, brother, and me…in addition to trying to help with other critical responsibilities when we visit.

RED Day also has given a very important long-term gift to our family:  the ability to create memories while we can.  By freeing our time from raking, weeding, and planting, volunteers from Keller Williams are giving us an opportunity to take my parents out this spring and summer to different places as a way to keep them both active and engaged; and as a way to build memories between parents and children; and grandparents and grandchildren. 

Taking my parents to various places during the coming months would not be possible if volunteers from Keller Williams had not done as much as they did.  Our time with our parents would be spent trying to do yard work rather than spending quality and meaningful time with them. 

RED Day has truly given our family the gift of time…and of memories that I know we will cherish in the future.  For this, I am truly thankful and feel incredibly blessed.


sarah said...

what an awesome gift.

Amanda-The Nutritionist Reviews said...

How awesome!

I just found you through one of the Friday blog hops! Can't wait to read more. Have a great weekend.

Amanda @