Yesterday, we helped organize an intergenerational event with the Bishop Wicke Rehab Center residents at our "personal" church UMC Monroe; where we worship personally. But any church, religious denomination or other organization can do what we did and get a spiritual lift. Charity and intergenerational interaction is not limited to one group or another, but the effect is the same - fulfillment in our human mission to connect with others and build relationships.
My wife and I are more financially restricted than we have been in the past as I work to build my event business with Generation Bridge, and work in Real Estate. So financially we are taxed, and with that comes all kinds of other things that I can share later, but what it also helps me see is the importance behind the concept, "if we don't have money, we still have time." Giving back doesn't have to be charity through donating money, but it can also be through donating TIME. Just because we can't write a check to support something important to us doesn't mean we can't support it.
Generation Bridge is about helping foster connections with people through face to face events. Marsha Cohen, a wonderful woman who runs UMC Monroe's nursery hours on Sunday's approached me a few months ago about the annual UMC Monroe Wicke Luncheon because of my work connecting our elders with solutions and resources for their challenges. This event is a great tradition meant to bring those who are living in a 24/7 skilled nursing facility to a luncheon hosted by members of our church.
I love doing anything like this because it helps me do a couple of selfish things:
I can't visit my grandmother in IL much and this allows me to be of service to people "like" my grandmother - easing a little of the personal guilt associated with long distance caregiving
I get to connect with people who I didn't know before. Hear stories / collect moments that can help inform my views or challenge the way I think through access to people who have a lifetime of wisdom.
I get to connect with people in my congregation in more meaningful ways - everytime we work together we get to know just a little more about our neighbors and church family (and they get to know about our family)
I see the creativity and experience available within that church family and see how the skills and the knowledge of others can complement my own.
I feel good knowing that I (and we) make a difference in people's lives.
There is a lot of "I" in this post, because I don't want to speak "for" others. But I feel that most of us who took time out to help organize, cook, clean, serve, decorate, visit, etc. with others can feel many of the same things. Even just having a luncheon for members who may not see each other often is great to see (some of the celebrations to "see" each other were amazing), and having a luncheon to welcome others who aren't part of our church or even denomination is always good. We learn more about each other, and overcome stereotypes when we get together with different people versus when we isolate ourselves within groups who "look" like us. And that is what Generation Bridge is all about - events to bring people together around common "challenges" and bridging gaps between generations and people in general.
I won't name all of those who helped plan and run the event, but there were over 15 people who helped organize it in one way or another. The event was based on a 20+ year history and therefore built off the experience of others; many before us helped establish an event pattern that works. So many gave of their TIME in order to bring enjoyment to a group of 12 women from the Bishop Wicke Rehab Center. And we all got to see and appreciate the work that Mary and her Aide Leticia perform in order to make the trip from their rehab center to our church.
To put it in perspective, it takes Mary and Leticia 30 minutes to load and 30 minutes to unload the bus. That means, attending an event like this will mean 2 hours of work to simply get to and from the event - not all places have the willingness from staff to make this happen and they therefore rely on others to organize events in the facility. This isn't a bad thing, but when the doors opened to unload into our church, the feeling of excitement and joy was unmistakable. Someone literally cheered, and knowing that you are a part of that is simply wonderful, and knowing that staff there are able to provide that service is also heartwarming. It is HARD physical and emotional work to load a van with individuals who have major mobility limitations.
The luncheon started with grace delivered by Betsy. She was asked to do this at the last moment, but she brought her experience to bear when she did a short grace that started with an energetic chorus of, "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." The food was served and greatly appreciated. Bingo was fun and competitive, and the prizes were a lot of fun.
I am hopeful that all those who participated as attendees or as helpers and organizers felt the same level of satisfaction and gratitude for our ability to provide an experience. Sure there was some money involved as people bought supplies and prepared food, etc., but the most meaningful thing was donating time in service to others to create a special experience.
It's hard to estimate the cost of the event, but if I had to estimate, I would wager that we spent roughly $300-$360 between all of us on decorations and food. There were about 30 people there - so we're looking at about $10 - $12 per person. But when you look at the time to organize, administer, and cook we might be getting closer to 65-75 HOURS across all those involved. So if we really look at this, it's not about the money, and more about the time. Sometimes we forget that fact as we write checks to donate to a preferred charity, or as we wonder "what can I doto help?"
If you're passionate about a particular cause, never forget that your TIME may be more meaningful than your donation and that there is always something you can do to help, even when you don't have the financial means to do so. Then through service, you never know what you will learn or what opportunities could come. And there is no shortage of great organizations and causes who need volunteers.
Some Learnings From This Event That Might Be Good If You Decide To Do Something Similar:
Traditions are great! But sometimes you can break from tradition and you'll be OK. When events have history, we can get locked into a mindset of "it was always done like this..." But many events need new volunteers / leaders / etc. and that should mean that you need to trust in their abilities to organize and run things "their way." Learn from the past, but don't be afraid of change.
Case in point - Fried chicken was the traditional lunch option. It's been done for years, but it's not the easiest thing for people who have mobility issues to eat (since they have a hard time cutting it or holding and eating it). Ask those who work with your guests every day what will make their day easier.
Ask the caregivers what kinds of limitations you need for the luncheon (i.e., in our eagerness to serve, we were often giving more liquids than we should have). There were fluid restrictions for health reasons AND also for continence issues. Sometimes refilling that coffee may lead to a couple of extra bathroom breaks - fortunately our church has handicapped bathrooms, but if you're hosting an event in a facility or home that doesn't have a handicapped bathroom, the aides may have a much more difficult time.
Good workers and volunteers are thinking through things and acting autonomously (cleaning / organizing / etc.). People like those of our church have been doing these things for years and have experience - just sit back and be in awe about their talent!
Take some time to be present and connect with your guests. You never know when a story might touch your heart. One visitor expressed that she had a grandson named "Brian" who had committed suicide 4 or 5 years earlier, and how much her family missed him. But also about how their family has been able to move on. And another woman expressed her optimism about the American Spirit and generosity still being strong in today's society even when we often hear the contrary.
Above all, be willing to give your time to your neighbors and families. Money helps fund many good things, BUT your time is "free" and makes it all possible. I know many of us wonder where we can find that time, but I also think there is a point when we have to question where we prioritize our time, and figure out how to schedule in time to volunteer and connect with our neighbors more meaningfully.
If you want help to create or do an event like this in your neighborhood, I am happy to connect and see if I can help. Generation Bridge wants to help people connect in person, so I'd be happy to collaborate / volunteer / or provide advice (or receive additional advice).