Eighteen-year-old Max Kovar might look a little out of place among the elderly residents at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, but he’s actually a regular there. The Tenafly volunteer has spent many months working with a Rockleigh resident who had Alzheimer’s.
One day, the woman remembered his name.
“It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” said Max, who will enter the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., in the fall. “It was very satisfying that I really reached out to somebody and changed her life.”
Now, other teens can have similarly rewarding experiences. The Jewish Home is starting a summer volunteer program for teenagers 14 and up. The volunteers will spend time with the residents as well as learn about various aspects of medical care of the elderly.
|From left, Zachary, Max, and Josh Kovar visit with a resident at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. courtesy Kovar family|
Charlene Vannucci, the director of Volunteer Services at the Jewish Home, said that this program will benefit both residents and volunteers. “We know a lot of kids are looking for something meaningful to do this summer,” Vannucci said. “We have a need to bring our residents outdoors for the summer and we need the additional assistance.”
Volunteers will be given plenty of time with the residents, she said, and take part in various activities. Volunteers and residents can sit outside together and drink coffee, talk, or play games such as checkers and cards. Or, she continued, they can stroll around the facility’s various ponds and gardens.
Vannucci noted that volunteers will learn what running a nursing home entails, including the vocational and educational requirements of nursing, rehabilitation, nutritional services, social work, and therapeutic recreation. Vannucci believes that this is good exposure to professional fields that are becoming increasingly important, especially in the current economy.
Vannucci said that administrators will work with the volunteers’ schedules because they know that everyone is involved in various activities and they want to be as accommodating as possible. They ask for a minimum of a two-day-a-week commitment from all volunteers.
Vannucci feels that “every volunteer brings something special.” For example, she said, more outgoing volunteers get along quickly and easily with the residents while “the quieter ones make good listeners.” The different personalities allow the volunteers to relate to different residents, she added.
Seventeen-year-old Zachary Kovar, Max’s brother, who has been volunteering at the Jewish Home for five years, explained that what had started out as a simple mitzvah project evolved into much more. He said he enjoys the new relationships he forms with the residents as well as absorbing the life lessons that they have to offer. Zachary added that he had made many friends at the home who since died, but “even though many relationships end, many new ones begin.”
A third brother, Josh, has been a volunteer for two years and plans to continue.
The program is running in two sessions, from July 5 to 29 and Aug. 1 to 26 and is limited to 12 students per session.