For as long as I can remember, the philosophy of “making the world a better place” has been engrained in my lifestyle, trickling down from my wise grandparents to my parents to me! I love my family deeply… we’re an inseparable circle of misfits and oddballs that love each other unconditionally, and I admire the way they all exemplify compassion, love, and care for others.
So naturally, when my grandfather passed away in August of 2010, his death left a major impact on me.
I began to understand just how precious life is, recognizing the vulnerability of the elderly. Being just ten years old, I was truly struck by the loneliness and fragility that occurs in nursing homes. Seeing someone you love so dearly in such a weak and fragile state is really heartbreaking. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the elderly in honour of my grandfather. This motivated me to begin volunteering at my local nursing home, Montefiore. There, I had the incredible opportunity to establish strong relationships with many of the residents. Sadly, I have seen many of my old friends come and go.
In particular, I forged a beautiful friendship with the sweetest woman named Cynthia Jacobs. I was her only visitor. I would arrive in her room every Sunday afternoon, excited to delve into the world of stocks, participate in a heated debate on Obama’s health care policies, or listen to enlightening tales of her childhood. It was easy to overlook the labyrinth of tubes running through her room or her inability to move the vast majority of her body. Once I got to know the wonderful woman inside of 77-year-old Cynthia, I knew I had found myself a true friend. On February 7th of 2015, Cynthia passed away, but her memory will always live on in my heart. She made it clear to me that the elderly have really paved the pathway of success for my generation, and have so many invaluable experiences from which we can all benefit our own lives.
My experiences at Montefiore opened my eyes to the reality of isolation and loneliness that so many elderly people face. I witnessed first-hand the situations of nursing home residents, having little connection to the outside world and nothing to which they can look forward. I wanted to change this. By combining my passion for writing and my desire to give back to the elderly, I founded an organization called “Love for the Elderly.”
Starting small at the age of 13, I began writing letters of kindness to my local Cleveland nursing home. After a positive response, I decided to make it into an actual organization, “Love for the Elderly,” and now, after spending over 1,400 hours over the past three years doing things like reaching out to the press, working on search engine optimization, inspiring people at TEDx events and national talk shows, acquiring sponsors, and building its social media, I’m proud to say that my organization has impacted over 20,000 senior citizens through its initiatives.
I’ve expanded LFTE to include many different programs, like “Letters of Love” (collecting and distributing anonymous handwritten letters of kindness to nursing homes), “Senior Buddies” (a new pilot program that launched in Feb of 2016 connecting impoverished Brazilian students learning English with seniors in Maine through pen-palling), and “Sunshine Box” (distributing cute, fun surprise goodie boxes to seniors to brighten their day)! It’s so heartwarming to see the difference that my organization makes and how it inspires others, and it reminds me that “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted!”
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