By: Ken Ronzetti, FCA Friendly Visitor Volunteer
Two and a-half years ago, I got involved with FCA because I wanted to help under-served populations on Long Island. When I learned about the Friendly Visitor Program for seniors, I decidedly immediately to get involved and to be matched with senior in need, who I would visit with once a week for an hour. The commitment was one year.
The first time I visited Joe, an older man who lives alone in a small apartment, I was nervous. FCA assured me though that the organization carefully screens seniors and volunteers to find a suitable match. After all, I am 28, and Joe is 72 but sure enough, we found a lot to talk about: Work, family dynamics, politics and the news. Joe reads the newspaper, watches CNN and loves to talk about the news. Throughout our time together, we quickly were at no loss of things to share with each other and discuss regularly.
Joe is a retired anesthesiologist, and I admit to a Web-MD interest in medicine. Joe had a DVD of a diagnostic from a medical test, but didn’t know how to access it. I opened it on his computer and together we looked at the imaging of his recent back surgery. He pointed out different segments of the spine for me.
While the volunteer commitment is one year, I’m already more than two years in.
Just as I have helped Joe navigate his computer and provide conversation and companionship, he has more than helped me with my own challenges. A terrific listener, Joe has encouraged me to move outside my comfort zone. On his advice, I have shifted to a more social calendar, actively meeting people outside of work.
There is a lot to learn from someone who has lived on this planet for seven decades. Joe’s notion of patriotism, for example, reflects a generation whose family members went to battle in WW2, or were drafted during the Vietnam War. My generation can reference wars, but most of my friends went to college and didn’t have to consider dodging anything except the alarm clock after a late night of partying—er, studying.
Volunteering has become a welcome oasis for me, a place where I’m removed from the rest of my life. If I’m unable to visit Joe in person, we chat by phone.
Visiting a senior is not about being on auto-pilot or just doing your “due diligence”; it provides you with something that you cannot get anywhere else: A meaningful and genuine connection with an older adult. While you may have started out looking to assist or care for them, you begin to realize that you are the one being helped.
I strongly encourage my peers to volunteer with FCA’s Friendly Visitor program or another program of this kind. Or just simply go out and visit a senior.
I can hardly wait for my next visit.
Ken Ronzetti lives in Garden City. He is a graduate of Wake Forest University in North Carolina where he studied Political Science. He serves on the leadership council of Family & Children’s Association.