This post is part of a series called How She Does It. For this series, I interview amazing moms and dads. Instead of taking a step back and saying “I don’t know how you do it,” here we take a step closer and tune in to what that person is experiencing in their world. If you’d like to nominate someone you know for this series, please email me.
A good friend invited Ty, Bailey, and me to her big family Thanksgiving celebration this last year because we didn’t have family coming in town, we wouldn’t have Abby, and we weren’t traveling. Ty wowed the crowd with his mad baking skills – buckeyes and grasshopper bars and a peanut butter banana cream pie that all turned out fabulous, of course. But what most stands out to me from that day is a woman I met named Adelle and a story she told about when her youngest daughter was just a baby.
I recently reached out to Adelle and asked if I could share her story here.
First, a little about Adelle: She and her husband Mike have been married almost 10 years, and they have two daughters – Kisty, 7, and Michaela, 4.
This is how she does it.
When I met you at Thanksgiving, you told me a story about when Michaela was a baby. I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind since. Can you tell it again?
For years and years, I had a personal tradition of visiting an assisted living facility around Easter. But one year, I wanted to do something different – not just visit on a typical holiday. So I took the girls to a facility to deliver cards to the residents for Father’s Day.
Michaela was just a baby, not even a year old, and Kisty was 3.
It was lunchtime, and we were passing out the cards. Each card was handmade by a kid. On the back, it said the child’s name and age.
I saw a gentleman sitting in the corner, by himself.
With Michaela on my hip, I walked over to him and handed him a card.
He said: “I’m almost blind, so I can’t read. But thank you.”
“Let me explain it to you,” I said.
I took his hand and put it on the card and explained, “Here’s a picture of a man fishing.” I flipped it over and told him the name of the child who made it.
Then on a whim, I said: “Do you want to feel something really cool?”
I took his hand and put it on my baby’s chubby little thigh.
He got tears in his eyes.
You could tell he was so touched that someone took the time to connect with him, reach out to him.
I looked down and saw this powerful image that I’ll never forget. Someone at the end of his life touching the soft, new skin of someone just starting her life.
And in that moment, I realized even an infant could volunteer and make an impact.
How did that moment change you?
I wanted my kids to be involved more than once a year. Not just check the box once a year to feel good about yourself.
That experience made me realize the power of bringing those two groups together – the elderly and children. So I started doing more stuff with my kids. Friends and family would find out what I was doing and ask if they could come with their kids.
That’s when it dawned on me that to formalize the effort could be good for a lot of people.
What did that mean for you, to consider formalizing it?
I had the idea that I could start a charity where kids would volunteer with seniors.
I did the typical working mom thing – made a list of pros and cons, wrote a feasibility analysis, and so on. But here’s what kept going through my head, on repeat:
“This is crazy. I have two kids. I have a job. I don’t have time for this.”
I reached out to a family member to get her thoughts. She’s a lawyer with five grown children, and she sustained a successful career while raising them.
This is what she told me: “Just follow your heart. Pray about it. It will all fall into place.”
It just didn’t make sense – my heart said yes, my head said no. I’m a real logical pros and cons type person.
I figured sometimes you just have to go for it.
I got my nonprofit paperwork ready to send to the State of Texas. I called it Youth2Seniors. And even as I was pressing the send button on the fax machine, I was thinking: “Cancel, cancel, cancel!”
That’s amazing. To go from this powerful experience of connecting your baby with a lonely senior to having the confidence to turn it into a nonprofit.
We’re 100 percent volunteer based. Sometimes we’re not as fast getting back to people because we don’t have a paid staff. Everyone has a full-time job – or two! We have lots of moms who also have an office job.
We started out connecting kids and seniors through art. We’ll host an art class at an assisted living facility where the kids and seniors work side-by-side to create art. The kids get a free art class, and both groups learn something.
But it’s really about the experience as opposed to the end result. Success is not whether you’ve painted a beautiful picture. Success is when the art class ends, and I watch a 95-year-old giving dating advice to a 9-year-old boy. That’s what it’s about.
When they’re learning from each other and appreciating each other, that to me is success. I see the seniors and the smiles on their faces when these kids are around. It’s just…incredible.
A lot of people, myself included, have had limited experiences with assisted living facilities. It’s usually only when we’re kids and a grandparent ends up in a facility, and it’s confusing and not necessarily a positive experience.
Why are you so passionate about working with seniors?
Recently, I was talking to one of our senior participants. Her name is Lorene, and she’s in her 90s.
I asked her: “What do you like about our programs?”
I expected her to say she loved learning new art skills or working on craft projects.
But this was her answer: “Of course we love the art. And of course we love the kids. But what we really like is that someone outside our community really shows an interest in us as individuals. Because once you move in here, your interaction is with people who live here or who work here or with your family. People don’t realize – we were you guys at one time. You guys will be us at one time.”
That made me understand, their interaction truly is just limited to that small group of people. They don’t go to the grocery store and get a smile and kind interaction from the cashier. They don’t go to parties and catch up with old friends. They don’t go to an office every day where their contributions and efforts are appreciated by their co-workers.
To bring that interaction to them is a precious gift.
You have two small kids and a full-time office job, and you run a nonprofit on the side. What about you? What do you do that’s just for you?
The seniors we work with will ask me: “When do you find time for yourself? What do you do for fun?”
And I always say, “Are you kidding? This is it, honey!”
It’s not: I can volunteer today, or I can do something fun for myself, or I can spend time with my kids. It’s about bridging all those together.
A lot of our Saturdays are filled with Youth2Seniors events. We’re not like “Ugh, we have to do this,” but it’s our family time – “Hey, we’re going to go to an art class!”
After the art classes took off, we started a giving program. This is where kids and seniors come together to help those in need. For example, they make teddy bears to give to kids at an emergency shelter.
People will discount a 5-year-old, but a 5-year-old can stuff a teddy bear! In fact, kids and seniors make a great pair because a 5-year-old can do the stuffing with their little hands, and the senior can fill out the birth certificate.
In a typical day, how do you fit it all in?
Sometimes I don’t! At night in bed, I’m thinking of my to-do list for the next day.
This morning, I got one kid on the bus, ran back to the house, and got on a conference call at 7:30 in the morning. In the middle of the call, my littlest one ran in and kissed me goodbye before her dad ran her to the babysitter.
Then at lunchtime, I typed up some Youth2Seniors emails.
After work, I’ll pick up the girls, do the homework thing, and go again.
And you’d be amazed at how much it all gets intertwined. We have a pen pal program where anyone can write a letter to a senior and brighten their day.
My 7-year-old had a homework assignment where she had to write a letter. So I said, “Perfect! Let’s write your pen pal a letter.” She wrote it, and we made a copy for her homework. I’m always looking for those opportunities where I can fold everything into one.
What have you learned, juggling all these things?
I have limited time just like everyone else. So I try to pick the things I’m most passionate about and say no to other stuff.
It’s very hard for me to say no. But I am having to learn how to limit my commitments and do the things I care about the most. For example, I’m not the room mom for both kids’ classes. This year, I dialed it back. Next year, maybe I’ll be the room mom for one.
That way when I do it, I can enjoy it and not feel like I have to be doing 15 other things. That’s hard to do. But it’s so liberating once you can learn to say no.
I bet you’ve met a lot of great young people through this journey. Tell me about one of them.
A while ago, I called a woman to ask for a donation to our annual fundraising event.
She said, “I can’t give you that, but I’ll donate my daughter Hannah.”
Her daughter’s time, she meant!
Hannah was 19 at the time, and she started teaching an art class here and there. She’s been getting more and more involved ever since.
What I really appreciate about Hannah is the different perspective she’s brought to the table. Every year, we have a booth at a local fun run. When Hannah heard about it, she said, “We’re going to carpool a group of seniors to the fun run.”
I thought, Really? It’s a fun run.
Hannah brought five ladies from the assisted living facility, and they did the fun run. The ladies were still doing the fun run after everyone finished. When they finally got close to the finish line, the crowd gathered and cheered them on. I think the ladies were a little embarrassed but you could tell they were honored.
Here was a group of 90-year-old women who thought they’d never do a fun run, and they did it. And all because of Hannah’s determination to bring that experience to them.
This is just one example of the impact that Hannah has made on our youth and seniors. I could go on and on!
Hannah has actually been nominated for an award to recognize her contributions. If she wins, that will be a $10,000 donation to Youth2Seniors, which would be such a huge gift.
What are some ways that someone like me could help out?
If you’d like to get more involved, this is what I’ll say: Sometimes as moms, we feel like if we’re going to commit, we have to go 100 percent gangbusters and go all in.
But it’s more important to set attainable goals. Say, “I’m going to give one hour every three months.” Don’t put the pressure on yourself to say you’re going to volunteer every week or that you’re going to get on a nonprofit’s board of directors. Know that it is all about quality, not quantity.
And you can do so much from home on your own schedule. I mentioned the pen pal program we started. Anyone can write a letter at home in just a few minutes, and it makes such a huge impact. To find out more about being a pen pal or our other programs, check out the Youth2Seniors site.
Include your kids, have fun, and do what you can. One hour volunteering is better than one hour of not doing anything.
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Do you have anything you want to share with Adelle or ask her? Please post a comment below.