One day our club president emailed members asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering for one hour at a seniors community. She said administrators wanted to set up a Table Topics session for their residents.
I thought, That sounds like fun, and it’s only an hour! So I signed up and headed over to the seniors complex the followingweek. I was immediately introduced to Albert, Larry, Terry, Shirley and Joan, and I became fascinated by their world of living history.
I loved the stories they shared that day. Albert recalled a harrowing time for his family more than 50 years ago, as they awaited hearing whether his lottery number would be called in the Vietnam War draft. Terry talked about his career as a professional photographer on an African safari. Larry shared how he recently bought a stranger lunch—an act that was out of character for him. Joan spoke about her terrifying experience being stranded at an airport as a child.
What particularly stuck with me was what Albert told me after the session. “Joan never talks. That was so special to hear one of her stories.” I knew right then that Table Topics with seniors shouldn’t be a one-time event. I offered to return the next week if they were interested. That was three years ago.
Today, I have my 10 regulars; others come and go. Some have passed away, and tears have been shed. “We have become a family,” a sweet woman named Pat says regularly.
When people get into their 70s, 80s and 90s, they have a lifetime of heartwarming, humorous and cherished stories to share, but they often don’t have anyone willing to listen. If I hadn’t stuck around, I would have missed the truly beautiful love story of Charles and Charmaine.
Charles is 95 years old, and the couple had been married for 75 years. Charmaine passed away a few months ago. Charles has spoken over and over again about his one true love, and of their continuous honeymoon at their home in Hawaii, where they frolicked in the waves sunbathing and skinny-dipping.
“The best part of this oppor tunity is that residents feel listened to; they feel loved; they hear laughter.”
Some residents have lost most of their cognitive abilities, so their contributions are more from the here and now. Whatever question Pat gets, she always says, “I love it here, just being surrounded by all of you!” When Gerry speaks, her stories often don’t make much sense, but she has such variety in her voice and facial expressions that her body language is enough to keep us fully engaged.
The best part of this opportunity is that residents feel listened to; they feel loved; they hear laughter. Anyone can listen to someone else for two minutes, and I bet any Toastmaster could carve out one hour a week (or one hour a month) to help a group of seniors feel truly appreciated. Remember, we’ll all be there ourselves someday!
Every week that I’m at the seniors community, I also feel listened to, loved and rewarded with a gift of smiles and laughter. If you would like to conduct Table Topics at a local seniors facility, feel free to contact me so I can help in your volunteering journey. Give a gift to others and to yourself by being a Toastmaster who truly makes a difference.
Cara Wasden is a member of the Toast of Petaluma club in Petaluma, California. She is a public speaking coach, a middle-school speech teacher and a tour guide for nature hikes with kids. Cara is happy to answer any questions about volunteering with seniors; you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.