Great Stories are written by Guiding Ohio Online AmeriCorps Members about their service.
Time. It ticks its hours down minute by minute, passing in massive amounts before we realize it and we are suddenly on the precipice of the end, looking back on the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. Wondering where they went, wishing, perhaps, to have some of them back—to redo what we did then with the knowledge we have now. Time. Once gone we can never get it back.
Americorps time. Once gone, we look back on it with gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to serve, for those we have served, those from whom we have learned new things and for an experience that rewarded, challenged and enriched our life.
Time. Ninety one plus years. That’s how much time my mother has experienced. The last years challenging her with the onset and advancement of Alzheimer’s disease. “Never put me in a nursing home,” she begged us after her mother passed away in 1991 with the same disease. That experience was traumatic for her. Time. Her children give it back to her willingly, even though it may not be the best choice for all concerned. Time. I give forty-eight hours a week to travel 65 miles to her home and stay a couple nights in order to give respite time for my brother who has the bulk of her care the rest of the week, along with a sister who visits a few hours a day one or two days a week. Some days I drive the 65 miles from her home back to mine feeling like my brain has shrunk to a smaller size (just like hers) after spending time keeping things simple for her, hearing things repeated 20 times in 30 minutes, and coming up with creative ways to get her to take her pills, help her with a bath, and finding things to help her feel useful and enriched, when so many things need to be done to assist her.
So what has this to do with Americorps service? It challenged and fueled my desire to become a service member with the Americorps/ServeOhio/Guiding Ohio Online program. Our Library Director mentioned the opportunity to me. Yes, the stipend was enticing. More so was the opportunity to fulfill what I had told a friend when I retired: “I want my retirement years to count.” Not count as the minutes in an hour, but to matter; to myself, my family, my community. Wasn’t helping with giving care to my mother doing that? For her, yes. And to a certain extent for me as well. But I needed a bit more for my own goals and I needed a distraction from the grief of watching this degenerative disease slowly rob us of the vital, passionate mother we once knew. And so I became an Americorps member, offering digital training at our local library—the one from which I had retired three years previously.
And from this Americorps experience I discovered I remember more technology than I thought I had retained from my employment years (and yes, much of it is still relevant to today’s technology!); I can still organize my work; I can still be creative in making lesson plans and software demos; and it’s great to be working with my former wonderful co-workers.
But the most important result of this Americorps experience are all the folks who came in and out of my life for computer/technology instruction. They learned from me; I learned from them or because of them—researching and discovering the answers to their technology questions. And their successes were and are, in small part, my successes.
There was the grandmother who wanted to use Facebook and Skype to keep in closer touch with her grandchildren. We spent multiple sessions learning about Facebook and Skype. And then she kept coming back with more questions so she also learned about downloading eBooks and how to organize her music and add album covers to each album in Windows Media Player. She later moved to Florida to be near family members and she took with her the technology abilities she learned, and she was now confident enough in her new technology skills to try a new GPS to help when she travels.
Another success was the retired construction worker who was creating charts of Civil War battles in which his ancestors had fought. He had a lot of information about each battle laid out in chart format. Together we were able to create a table in Microsoft Word in which he could place the information then print multiple copies for his family members. In the near future he will be taking a two-hour class at another County agency on how to use Microsoft Word. His experience with the Civil War chart gave him the confidence to enroll in the class and he knows he can come back to the Library for more MS Word instruction as he needs it. From the Civil War chart we moved on to FamilySearch[dot]org and Ancestry Library Edition where he learned to document information about his ancestors and to create his family tree online. He is currently learning more about Facebook so he can reach out to distant family members and try to expand his knowledge of his family history through them.
Then there was another grandmother who learned how to move pictures of her grandchildren and other family members from her smart phone and the memory cards from her digital camera to her laptop and organize them into folders. She is currently working on creating photo albums for each grandchild and in the process she also learned how to use LibreOffice Writer to create printable journal entries for her albums.
And not to be forgotten was the GOBA (Great Ohio Bike Adventure) volunteer who needed to learn how to use Google Earth maps and Windows Snipping Tool in order to create map handouts for the GOBA riders that would help them find rest stops along the bike route.
Time. All it took was a bit of time for these and others I assisted during my Americorps service year. But like a seed planted along the way, they may show others that need to know how to do what they learned to do and so that time will be multiplied by others helping others. In the meantime they helped me. By keeping my mind occupied by things other than how Alzheimer’s disease is affecting my mother’s brain. And in the process I am a better caregiver by keeping my mind active, and taking a fresh perspective back to my mother when I go to do my caregiving stint. That life, no matter what affects it, is still precious life. And by being generous with our time we can make the most of each day—finding those small things for which to be grateful, giving a helping hand to those who need it and in the process learning from others as well.
Time. Americorps time. It’s time well-spent.