My name is Jo Ellen Hickenbottom. I reside in Charleston and am a retiree from Eastern Illinois University. Retirement has afforded me more time to be “Nana” to my 7 wonderful grandchildren. It has also afforded me more time to spend with my 90 year old mother who is a resident at the Harmony Center in Mattoon. In fact, this is where I discovered the work Community Bridges is doing in the community. It was about two years ago when I wheeled my mother into the chapel at Odd Fellow Rebekah Home to participate in the Generation-2-Generation (G-2-G) Program listed on their daily activity list.
While sitting with my mother during the programming, I was amazed at how well the children and residents interacted with one another! Watching what transpired truly warmed my heart. Being aware that many of the residents have very few visitors, I realized this visit from the children would probably be the highlight of their day.
I was overjoyed with what I was witnessing... how at ease the children were and the responses from the seniors. It inspired me to inquire about being a volunteer.
My involvement with Fit-2-Serve’s Community Bridges over the past two years has provided the opportunity for me to apply my time where I feel I am making a difference in my community. I like the philosophy: just ONE HOUR, ONCE a MONTH. It provides a definite time, place and location, and you get to know the residents and students a little better each time you go to a program. I’ve always enjoyed volunteering over the years, but it’s mainly been with adults. With G-2-G, I am finding joy in being with the youth and the elderly. It is a perfect fit for me!
The rest of the story. . .
In 2018, I was invited to work as a Summer AmeriCorps VISTA, Volunteer In Service To America. I was tasked with being the Volunteer Coordinator, and my main duty was to recruit new volunteers by working with churches, businesses and individuals. I learned more about the other programs offered through the work of Fit-2-Serve. Because Fit-2-Serve partners with the Mattoon YMCA Summer Youth Camp, I was able to assist with some of those other programs throughout the summer. What a great summer! I loved working with the kids whether it was in the garden, classroom or kitchen.
I realized that many children never have an opportunity to work in a garden, and so much can be learned from that experience. Whether they were pushing little wheel barrows, planting vegetables, weeding, or picking fresh fruits and vegetables, I could see how much fun they were having while learning some very valuable life’s skills. The fact they worked hard (and they really did!) and were able to see the fruit of their hard work when they picked tomatoes, strawberries, etc., helped them understand the importance of a work ethic.
Two years down the road, I continue to work with Fit-2-Serve as their Volunteer Volunteer Coordinator, particularly for the Generation-2-Generation programming. I find great joy as I see how eager the children are to work with the residents in creating crafts and learning from each other. I love the smiles on the resident's face when the children give them a craft or card they made. Many of the residents take the craft and cards back to their rooms to look at through the day. One of the residents in another nursing home even keeps a3-ring notebook of all the crafts and cards the students have made for him throughout the year. He is so proud of the notebook and enjoys sharing it with everyone.
As a retiree, I need to keep active and have something that is rewarding, and this “work” I’m doing with Fit-2-Serve definitely “fits” those needs to serve for me! Last month, after finishing a Generation-2-Generation program at one of the senior facilities, a resident came up to me and simply hugged me. “Thank you so much for coming and bringing these children. They just made my day!”
Consider joining us. . .
I know Fit-2-Serve is working on a sustainability campaign, and I’m glad they are! I live in Charleston, and I am currently coordinating a pilot program for G-2-G with four kindergarten classes from Mark Twain Elementary School and four very willing senior living facilities. My personal dream is to see the pilot program expand to ALL the kindergarten classes and more senior facilities in Charleston. However, it takes volunteers and some funding! With the assistance of EIU student volunteers and the amazing students from the Charleston High School Impact Club, we have been able to continue the pilot program for the last two years. However, imagine what COULD BE if more would consider JUST ONE HOUR ONCE A MONTH?
I encourage you to visit Fit-2-Serve’s website to learn more about volunteering or donating. It has been not only rewarding for me, but has provided great joy to children, senior residents, and their activity directors! They always thank us for bringing such joy to their residents!