Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, explains that people don’t buy “what” you do. They buy “why” you do it. This is why I founded New Friends, and why I’m inviting you to help me build it.
Society has an aversion to nursing homes. At best, nursing homes are considered acceptable, but only when all other options have been exhausted. At worst, they are viewed as depositories for the old and invalid who have nowhere else to go. As a result, people tend to avoid them, only entering a nursing home when forced to out of personal need or obligation. Unfortunately, this response does nothing to improve the circumstances for nursing home residents. Furthermore, it perpetuates the belief that nursing homes are the source of the suffering.
Fortunately, not everyone turns away. In fact, in 2014, over 15,000 certified nursing facilities provided comprehensive, long-term care to almost 1.4 million Americans*.
From medical and personal care to dietary and spiritual needs, the individuals who work in these facilities bear an enormous burden. Certainly, they should be held accountable for providing compassionate, quality care. But, are they responsible for the suffering of nursing home residents? And, do they have the resources to alleviate it?
As a volunteer who visits nursing homes, I have witnessed the hardships residents endure. Most of them live with severely debilitating physical or mental conditions. In varying degrees of success, these symptoms can be managed. It is the job of the nursing homes to ensure that they are. But pain, discomfort and deteriorating mental capabilities are only part of the problem.
From what I have seen, the greatest pain nursing home residents experience is not physical. It cannot be alleviated by even the best regimen of medication, proper diet, physical therapy, and personal hygiene. Instead this suffering is caused by a lack of meaningful connections with other people.
I have witnessed some disheartening scenes. One afternoon, I was standing outside a recreation room while a bingo game was in session. A wonderfully, animated activity coordinator was enthusiastically calling out the numbers. She was trying very hard to make the game fun for the residents. However, the participants were so detached that she might as well have been talking to an empty room. The image stuck with me. What could be done to make things better?
That evening I wondered, “What if the people who turn away from nursing homes in fear made a new choice? What if they were encouraged to turn toward the residents in love?” Instantly, the scene in my head was transformed. I was taken from a place of suffering, to one of joy, as every person in that room was accompanied by a friend.
As convenient as the idea may seem, it’s not the job of the nursing home staff to visit with residents. Nursing home professionals must focus on performing the duties they are trained for. Certainly, they can offer a smile and kind word when administering medication or helping a resident out of bed. But, there isn’t time to look through pictures, play a game of dominoes, or simply sit and hold someone’s hand. This is the job of the community. This, my friends, is our job.
The good news is that it’s not hard. Other than the ability to extend compassion, it doesn’t require special skills. Nor is it time-consuming. In fact, as A Story of Why illustrates, sometimes all it takes is a few minutes. I have found that the most difficult thing about connecting with someone who is suffering is addressing one’s personal fears regarding aging, illness, and disability. One must step into another’s suffering to move with them out of it. This can be arduous. But nothing is more rewarding.
Like others who have the innate desire to help, there are many reasons I got involved in this work. However, there is only one reason for founding New Friends.
The individuals I visit with have given me a unique perspective. I feel I have been told a secret that the world needs to hear. My friends have shown me that where there is despair, there is hope. Where there is sorrow, there is joy. Where there is unrest, there is peace. And where there is loss of meaning, there is purpose.
My purpose is to inspire others and create opportunities to take action. As New Friends, we can move those in need from a place of suffering to one filled with hope, joy, peace, and purpose. I invite you to join me.
If you are interested in learning more, please email Kerry Andersen via email at NewFriendsVisits@GMail.com
*This data was extracted from a 2014 report by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.