Spreading positivity: Just how impactful volunteers can be

James Rochow joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a pilot in the Korean War.

by Katie Dawes

80-year-old James Rochow was a well-known resident in his assisted living community. Preferring to go by Jimmy, he was friendly with the staff, social with other residents and stole the hearts of many volunteers. Despite his approachable nature, he was not always so willing to engage. James had Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the central nervous system that affected his bodily movement resulting in severe tremors. Parkinson’s disease is incurable and it is estimated that seven to ten million people are living with Parkinson’s disease.

Before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, James lived in Brooklyn. He eventually joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a pilot in the Korean War. Post-war, James moved to California where he met his wife and had a daughter. After 30 years and his diagnosis, James and his wife were unable to care for themselves. They both decided to move into an assisted living community where they spent most of their time together. Two years after they moved in, James’ wife passed away, leaving him alone with an incurable disease.

James became depressed and isolated himself from both his community and extended family. He was placed in a wheelchair indefinitely and had constant joint pain. His disease brought upon severe tremors and uncontrollable shaking. The loneliness and solitude became increasingly more apparent to staff. Pacifica Senior Living Executive Director Stacie Dawes recognized James’ loneliness and wanted to come up with a way to engage him on a more personal level. Stacie decided to pair James up with volunteers in an effort to increase his level of communication and personable interaction.

The importance of volunteers in senior lives is incredibly necessary,” said Pacifica Senior Living Executive Director Stacie Dawes. “I always believe volunteers breathe life into the souls of seniors because it allows them to tap into the youth of their lives. The smile it brings to their faces makes our volunteer program a vital staple to our daily activities.”

James and several volunteers immediately established a strong connection, one that was visible to the entire community. James went from being isolated and introverted to having daily visits with the volunteers in communal spaces. His face would light up as he told them about his days in the Korean War. He shared the significance of his Air Force baseball cap that never left his wheelchair and always encouraged the volunteers to join him for after lunch ice cream. He taught the volunteers how to play poker and checkers, which eventually inspired James to set up a poker club within the assisted living community.

I remember the first time James taught me to play poker. He was so excited.” said Pacifica Senior Living volunteer Katie. “He won, but offered to buy me ice cream as a consolation prize. We would meet every Thursday to play and James would always have a huge smile on his face when he saw me walk in.”

After interacting with the volunteers, James went from being in a depressive and isolated state to a youthful and engaged community member. He did not let his Parkinson’s disease consume his life and allowed the volunteer program to enhance his assisted living experience. James became a teacher, listener and a friend to the volunteers, impacting not only his life but their lives as well.

The volunteer program has made a significant impression on James’ life and on the lives of so many other assisted living community residents. Pacifica Senior Living has continuous  volunteering opportunities for anyone looking to make a difference in a seniors life. For more information on becoming a volunteer please visit our website, https://www.pacificaseniorliving.com/.

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