A Helping Hand & Open Heart
I was 28 and itching to have a place of my own. When I graduated from grad school, the job opportunities were limited in my field, so I stayed home longer than I anticipated. Most of my friends were already on their own or married. And while I loved my family, I longed for a chance to finally be independent—to feel like a “real” adult.
I found a one bedroom apartment in a fun town close to some of my friends. It was walking distance from restaurants, running trails and only a short drive to Philadelphia. I picked out furniture, decorated and settled in. I spent that first summer enjoying the novelty of it all; browsing the shops, inviting friends over and adding little touches to my place.
Then, in September, I returned to work as a school counselor. As time went by, the newness wore away and I felt a sense of loss.
While living alone was exciting, I didn’t realize how lonely it would be.
Growing up in a family of seven, feeling lonely just never happened. I always had someone to share my day with or hug me. The lack of physical touch was the thing that bugged me the most. I felt like I would go months without a pat on the shoulder or a hug.
I tried filling my time with additional classes, exercise and plans with friends; but still, in the down time, deep feelings of sadness would ensue. I was longing to find a mate and start a family. And since many of my friends were settling down, I felt like there was no hope for me.
I thought that a relationship was the only way to fill this void.
At about the same time, the pastor at my church had a sermon that dramatically changed my life. It was so basic, but life changing at the same time. He said, “Give others what you need.” He went on with various examples: “If you need encouragement, give it to someone else.” “If you need a friend, be a friend to someone else.”
It was almost like a little twist on the golden rule.
It was clear to me that what I needed was companionship. My wheels were spinning thinking of ways that I could provide this for others. I remembered a flyer that I received in the mail from an organization called ElderNet. They provided support for elderly people who wanted to remain in their homes, if they were physically able. Support took the form of trips to the grocery store, doctor’s visits and household chores.
I knew this opportunity was for me. After completing the necessary paperwork, clearances and training, I began volunteering.
I have to admit, when I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure it was going to be the right fit for me. While I had volunteered all my life, most of my service was with children, not the elderly population. But surprisingly…it was exactly what I needed. Volunteering for Eldernet gave me the sense of community that I was yearning for. I thought I was lonely, but I didn’t realize how lonely others in my community were. Some of the people I supported had no family around and I was the only person they saw all week.
My visits with them transformed my outlook and opened my eyes to the blessings within my own situation. Although I was living alone, I was constantly in contact with others at work, and in my free time.
The truth is, we helped each other.
In our brief encounters, some shared deep hurts, while others just simply shared their passions and hobbies. I realized that even though in some ways we were very different, we were looking for the same things: a sense of independence, self-worth and community. Eldernet was a vehicle which allowed them to maintain that sense of independence, but it also helped me in more ways than I anticipated.
I felt so appreciated and valued for the assistance I was providing.
On one occasion, an elderly woman told me that she was thinking of taking her own life. My heart broke for her. I instantly called the agency and they intervened to ensure that she received the support that she needed. It felt so good to know that I played a part in getting her help. As it turns out, this phenomena of improved mood and physical health, as a result of volunteering, is a common experience.
About two years later, I moved back home to save for my wedding. I stopped volunteering for Eldernet because of the distance. While I was saddened to end that chapter of my life, I was eager to embark on the next part of my journey.
ElderNet carried me through a very challenging time in my life. Honestly, I don’t think just any type of volunteer work would have helped me out of my funk.
I think the experience filled my cup so that I was in a better position to give my best in my relationship with my husband.
Pastor Scott couldn’t have been more accurate. Helping the lonely and helpless in my community lifted my spirits and filled my heart with a sense of wholeness. But even more, this principle of giving others that which I am lacking has blessed me repeatedly.