I think about what's carried me through these dark days, and the answer is simple: my family and friends. Ho-hum, right? Well, OK, let me be corny and say I'm blessed in this regard -- I have great family and friends, and they are my blessings this holiday season (and year-round).
You know, though, that a great number of people are not so blessed -- they have no one -- and for these people, holidays accentuate that lack. Elderly people, in particular, experience the loneliness and isolation of friends and family long gone or living elsewhere, holiday time and year-round. There is a blessing for them, though, and it is Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly (LBFE).
This organization exists solely to provide friendship and decrease loneliness/isolation for elderly folks, and to offer volunteers a chance to build and experience the blessing of long-term friendships with older adults. You can never have too many friends, right? But, how many of your friends have lived the years and gained the experience that the older adult has?
LBFE was begun in Paris, France, in 1946 (right after wartime) by Armand Marquiset. He devoted himself to alleviating 'the greatest poverty of all -- the poverty of love' by visiting and delivering hot meals with flowers to the elderly poor of Paris.
In the U.S., LBFE opened in Chicago in 1959, and now has branch offices in Boston, San Francisco, Philadel-phia, Miami, Minneapolis, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and, as of 1997, Cincinnati. Volunteers function in a variety of ways: There are visiting volunteers who spend time with their elderly friend (or friends, as you can have more than one elderly friend) at least two times a month; holiday volunteers who help out at holiday and social activities; office volunteers; and, 'on-call' volunteers who are available during the week to provide 'on-call' services (errands, grocery shopping, transporting to medical appointments, etc.)
As with any friendship, you devote as much or as little time as you want, and you get as much as you give. As a Visiting Volunteer, you'd visit your friend at his/her own home (as opposed to at a nursing home) on a regular basis, help out with many of the small but important things the elderly friend needs to remain independent, and provide the kind of companionship found in any meaningful friendship.
You'd have the opportunity to celebrate birthdays, participate in social activities put on by LBFE, accompany your friend to places of mutual interest, or just spend time at their home visiting, talking, hanging out. If you want to volunteer on a less regular basis, you could help staff some of the holiday and social activities that LBFE consistently has.
For example, on major holidays --Thanksgiving and Christmas -- volunteers deliver meals to homebound elders or drive them to the LBFE holiday party (my source tells me last year's Christmas party had over 200 people in attendance.) Throughout the rest of the year, the elders are treated to movies, theater, sightseeing trips and sporting events, with the help of volunteers. When an Old Friend has a birthday, s/he is invited to a birthday party. So, there are lots of opportunities to become even minimally involved, and it seems to me a little goes a long way here.
Think of what little things your friends do for you which make a big difference in your life, and imagine life without that. Think of the combined power in New York of several people doing what little they could to help, and the difference that made.
Now, get out there and enact what your mother told you (or should've told you): Respect your elders and, befriend them while you're at it. May we all, young and old, be able to give thanks for great friends, at Thanksgiving and beyond.
For more information, visit Little Brothers online at www.littlebrothers.org, or contact Randy Yauss at 513-542-7555.