As a volunteering opportunity with a program called Husker Connect, student-athletes had the option to mentor a senior citizen at one of the nursing homes in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was paired with an eighty-five-year-old woman named Sally. It started off as weekly visits getting to know her and the other residents at The Legacy Retirement Community. I immediately learned so much about Sally's life, including the occupations she held, her family members, and all of her most memorable experiences throughout her lifetime. Most of my visits consisted of chatting in her room or going to the Legacy's activities and games with her. After being transferred to a rehabilitation hospital a year later, I have continued to visit her. Sometimes I attend mass with her and other times we simply drink coffee and visit about her life experiences. Almost two years later and I can easily say that Sally has touched my life in more ways than one. It started off as volunteering, but my visits have now turned into spending time with someone I truly have learned to loved.
Changing my major - Reflecting on my relationship with Sally and realizing how much it meant to me, helped me realize that I wanted to dedicate my life to the betterment of others. I decided to change my major from Nutrition to Nursing, as I felt this would give me more opportunity to help people. I knew I wanted something in the medical field and a nurse is a very important caretaker to those who need it most. I saw myself incorporating the skills I learned while interacting with the older generation at the nursing homes to a work environment where making genuine connections with patients is vital. Overall, I know nursing is the right path for me and I am grateful that I am given the opportunity to pursue this dream of mine. It was not easy figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with my life, especially as an 18-year-old right out of high school. My advice to those in the same type of situation, is to never feel rushed. Take your time exploring different classes and get involved with your community. Volunteer, meet new people to make connections, and put yourself in situations that you normally wouldn't. One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that I am always in control of my own life, and with the help of those around me I have been able to see my future more clearly. However, live in the moment and be patient; the future will play out the way it is meant to be.
Acquiring my CNA - Excited to get more involved, I decided to get licensed as a Certified Nursing Assistant last summer. This is when I was able to really get first hand experience in determining how I could best impact the lives of senior citizens. I gained clinical experience at Villa Saint Joseph, a Nursing Home in Overland Park, Kansas. I worked alongside many different CNA's and nurses feeding the residents, putting them to bed, and especially being good company to them. This opened up my eyes to what it takes to be a good caretaker. Overall, I learned that a "good caretaker" is someone who is a positive light in their patients' lives. A positive light involves making genuine, loving connections with others. I learned the true meaning of compassion while my relationships formed with the residents. This experience taught me that no matter what kind of day you are having, it is so important to put yourself second when working with and for others. As one of the CNA's at the nursing home told me, "Always treat the residents like family". This means that everything you do is for your residents/patients, and it should be done diligently and with passion. The biggest lesson I learned is that you have to turn the work you're doing into a lifestyle. As a caretaker, you can't have the mindset of "I have to do this because it is my job" but instead you have to see it as "I am doing this because I truly care." Sometimes having this mindset is not easy. To push aside your own needs and be truly selfless will never be perfected but it can always be something to work on getting better at. I have learned to do this by allowing my work or volunteering to be a release from the stresses in my own life. I think of it as a break from my own school work and other distractions in my life. Having this mentality has allowed me to show more compassion for others.
First CNA job - In November, I got a job working as an at-home-caretaker for a quadriplegic woman named Sue. I found this job through a website called care.com. I wanted to get experience as a caretaker who focuses on a person's individual needs, and working with Sue showed me that everyone has their own way they want to be treated. She had specific things she wanted me to do, such as how to correctly transfer her into and out of bed the way that is most comfortable for her. I also helped Sue shower, dress for work, put her makeup on, make her breakfast/lunch/dinner, clean the house, and other daily tasks that required my assistance. I know this experience will allow me to adapt to each patient's specific needs in the future. Sue has been a quadriplegic since she was 15 years old. Her outgoing, lively spirit has made this experience so rewarding and her positivity for the situation she is in has given me a new perspective on life. I was reminded through this job to never take life for granted, especially the little things that involve being independent. Working for Sue justified all the lessons I had previously learned from volunteering at the nursing homes. I have once again been reminded that the relationships I build over the course of my career and other life endeavors are what really matter. My job with Sue wasn't for anything else other than giving my time to someone I truly care about. I am so thankful for this experience.
Lessons learned - Always be in search of new experiences. Never take the simple things for granted, such as meeting people and learning about their life journey. Don't stress about what is to come next in your life. With determination and a positive outlook, you can accomplish anything. Never be afraid of pursuing your goals and dreams.
To be continued... As a Certificate program graduate I will continue to live out what I have learned from each civic value. I am excited what is next, because I know the best has yet to come in my experiences as an active member in my community. I plan on continuing to make connections with people as I embrace each and every adventure in life.