Hope has been the key to happiness in my life. Lows happen; troubled times are inevitable. But when I can hope that what hurts will be healed and that difficulties will be overcome, I can be happy. Hope is something we can hold onto in difficult times and know, trite though it sounds, that the dawn follows even the darkest nights. I have also learned that hope sometimes arrives in different and unexpected packages.
During my sophomore year of college, I hit my personal low. I was drowning in depression and anxiety. Simply making it through the day was a feat in itself. I lacked purpose, and I even questioned my will to live. Hope seemed just beyond my grasp.
During this time, I was introduced to a program called Opening Minds Through Art ("OMA"). OMA is an intergenerational program for people with dementia. Its guiding principle is that people with dementia are capable of expressing themselves creatively. We break down cognitive and generational barriers by using art as the medium. College students visit nursing homes once a week and partner with someone who has dementia. The students are trained to assist the elders in failure free activities, while allowing the elders to be active agents in their own creative process.
My first partner was Peggy. Peggy is the most positive, outgoing, bubbly person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The very first thing Peggy asked me was, "Do you like dogs?!" She then told me a story about her dog. It's a great story and one I know by heart because Peggy told me that story approximately every 15 minutes, each time as if it were brand new. I watched Peggy create beautiful artwork every week. Her eyes would light up every time she saw me, even though she did not remember me. She made me feel like we had always been friends. Each week, I was able to leave my own world, and enter Peggy's – a world filled with joy, positivity and selflessness.
Peggy's impact on my life has been profound. She reminded me that the ability to devote some time in service to others is a gift, as is life itself. Sharing happiness restored my hope that tomorrow could be, and would be, better. That is the joy of volunteering. It allows me to be a part of something bigger than my struggle.
Did I tell you the name of Peggy's dog? "Hope."
Being a part of OMA has been one of the most rewarding aspects of college. I have the honor and privilege of being the president of the organization. Additionally, I am a student-leader at two different nursing homes, and I love that experience as well because it affords me the opportunity to serve more student volunteers who are able to experience what I did working with my partner. Although I no longer work with Peggy one-on-one, I still get to see her each week, interacting with her new partner every semester. I have had the tremendous opportunity to get to know all of the elders that participate in OMA. Getting to know all of the artists and building relationships with more than 15 elders has been truly incredible. I love that when I go to OMA, I get to be with my second family, despite the fact that they do not remember me. It means so much to me to be able to give the elders my full attention and ensure that they feel empowered and appreciated for at least one hour each week. I also love stopping by the nursing home and playing bingo with Peggy.
It has been incredibly rewarding to watch the love and happiness that is shared between the artists and the volunteers. Being a part of OMA has allowed me to be a part of something that is bigger than myself, and for that, I am eternally grateful.