An Essay by Hannah Singer, Sophomore at Ursuline Academy of Dallas and VNA Teen Board Member
When the world flipped upside down and people huddled indoors, six feet away from others and uncertain of the future, I received several emails from Visiting Nurses Association Meals on Wheels (VNA) asking for help and participation. As a member of the VNA Teen Board, an organization of seventy teenagers across Dallas that regularly performs service projects with VNA, I loved getting to know the clients and enjoyed delivering meals, and I knew that VNA was going to need lots of help keeping everybody safe, as new research stated that seniors were getting hit the hardest by the virus. Because of new restrictions and the high risk involved with contacting the seniors in Dallas, VNA opted to deliver virtual meal routes multiple days a week, while only permitting VNA staff to safely deliver meals; a virtual delivery was simply calling each client on a meal route, checking in and asking questions, rather than physically delivering the meals.
Beginning the first week of April, I made these virtual deliveries to countless clients all over the metroplex. I spoke to grandparents, daughters, fathers, dog-owners, and caregivers: I connected with people in a time when I, too, had few personal interactions. I asked people if they needed fans or air conditioning, if they felt safe at home, if they needed additional food or a free flu shot, and if they were okay and taking care of themselves. I spoke to people who were living every moment like it was their last, crowded around their living room with their grown children who had moved back in, but I also spoke to people who needed encouragement to keep going, to remember that this fear of the unknown is just temporary, and the gentle reminder that there is always tomorrow.
I found myself late to just a couple of virtual classes because of an extra story about a client’s precious dog or their kind son who had built them a wheelchair ramp so they could enjoy the sunshine in their front yard, not just from the front window, and though I may have received a tardy, I would not change it for the world. I gained greater knowledge about others, and while I never got to truly know each person personally, our short exchange never failed to brighten both of our days. Despite the smiles and the laughs we shared, I heard the daily struggles of the clients—struggles to get the medical treatment they needed, the fear of falling ill from the virus, and the hardest difficulty of all: loneliness. I gained a greater appreciation for my life, my safety, and my family; it was the little things in life that made the clients happy—a card from a neighbor, sunshine, spring blossoms, or my personal favorite, a woman’s herbs had finally come back to life in her garden, so she could now include these homegrown herbs in her meals. From hearing about the daily ups and downs the clients had, I acquired a new social and emotional awareness; I was able to imagine life from their perspective, and while I was not able to understand everything, I was able to grow and become more compassionate and encouraging towards others in times of trouble.
While we can deliver meals again, virtual routes still stand, and I love calling and checking in on the clients. From hundreds of calls over several months, I take away a greater sense of compassion and the ability to better empathize with others during both times of joy and times of hardship, as well as the appreciation for the things in my life that I often take for granted. As I sat in my backyard three days a week, hoping I was speaking loud enough for the clients to hear me, I laughed, offered words of comfort, made sure the clients felt cared for, and even shared a few stories about my goofy dog, too. When times in my life get tough, I remember the resiliency of the clients and their perseverance to keep going, even when nobody knows what tomorrow will look like.
Serviam is a core value in my life; it has been, and it always will be. By helping others, we bring about optimism and unify to create a better world. Making virtual deliveries was often the highlight of my day, and the interpersonal skills and the empathy that I gained will stay with me forever. I found myself internalizing my own advice: facing every day one day at a time and taking care of myself when I could not control the everchanging outside world. I remember the lives of the clients and by performing these acts of Serviam, I am able to put aspects of my life into perspective, slow down and appreciate life in all its forms, and show gratitude. We never know what someone is going through until speaking to them and offering an ear to listen and a few words of comfort help carry the world to a better place. The clients taught me so much; the small moments are just as special as the grand ones, and something as simple as a caring phone call and a good laugh can make someone’s week.