Brother/Sister Duo Brighten the Lives of Forgotten Seniors

Daily Point of Light # 7716 Jan 2, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honorees Colette and Anthony Gentile. Read their story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

As a high school junior, Colette has a passion for the arts, piano, theater, photography and writing. Aside from being a motivated student, she leads many clubs, volunteers at a museum and started an anti-bullying committee for middle school students at her school. Her 8th-grade brother, Anthony, is interested in sports, coding, technology, mixed martial arts and piano. The pair has taken these passions to a new audience: seniors who are often lonely and disconnected from their families. Their nonprofit, Siblings for Seniors, is a way for generations to come together and bring meaning to life.

What inspires you to volunteer?

We have always felt a void since we only know one of our grandmothers, who lives with us. Both grandfathers passed away and our other grandmother lives across the country, so we do not get to spend much time with her. In addition, we saw how happy our great aunts and uncles were when we visited them. Not only did it bring them joy, but it warmed our hearts as well.  Since the simple act of visiting and showing we cared made such an impact on our extended family members, we realized we could touch the lives of our community’s senior citizens by volunteering.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Siblings for Seniors.

Most of our time is focused on spending quality time with seniors living in senior care facilities. We do crafts, play trivia games like Jeopardy or Name That Song, and sometimes we play the piano for them, but mostly we sit and talk. We have conversations about when they were younger. They share their experiences and they’re curious about ours. Some of these people don’t have family or other visitors so it’s a special time for them to spend a couple of hours with us.

Colette and Anthony decorating gift bags filled with pantry items for a Meals on Wheels fundraiser./Courtesy Colette Gentile

Our goal is to visit a senior facility almost every weekend. We spend about two to three hours at each visit. We volunteer about 10 to 12 hours each month. We fit it in around school and other activities. If you really want to do something, you’ll find the time.

We wanted to do something else besides spending time with the seniors. We realized there are many seniors who are food insecure. We found a local Meals on Wheels and wanted to help them with this issue. Since we cannot help deliver meals because they only do it during the week when we are in school, we came up with the idea to raise money for Meals on Wheels by doing simple bake sales. My brother and I bake cookies, cupcakes and other treats and then sell them to friends, family, and colleagues of our parents. We then take 100% of the proceeds and either present a check to Meals on Wheels, or we purchase much needed pantry items for them.

We’ve also made care packages that are delivered with each hot meal brought to the seniors. We purchased plain white gift bags that my brother and I decorated with inspirational notes and drawings. The gift bags contain goodies like granola bars, fruit cups, instant soup and other shelf-stable items.

We held a bake sale this past October which funded the purchase of puzzles, yarn and games for the adult day care center affiliated with the local Meals on Wheels chapter. To date, we have raised over $2,000 from our seven bake sales. Beyond the bake sales, we recently canvassed for donations from local businesses, something we had never done before. Our original goal was to raise $2,500 by the holidays. We have already donated $1,500 from that fundraiser and with checks still coming in each week, we expect to reach our goal.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

I [Colette] attended a girl’s leadership camp the summer before entering seventh grade. For the conclusion of the program, we had to develop an action plan that would have a positive impact on the community. I knew immediately that I wanted to work with seniors given my personal experiences with my elderly relatives.

I put an action plan together and was hoping to get it off the ground within a few months, but it was halted by the pandemic. During that time, my brother Anthony expressed his interest in joining with me to make a difference and in 2021 Siblings for Seniors was born.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Our motto is, “Two hearts, one mission.” Forming relationships with the seniors we see weekly is so amazing. We’ve known most of them for two years. They will often say that we brighten their day. It is very rewarding to know we are making them smile and bringing them joy by simply showing them we care.

Anthony and Colette dropping off pantry items to Meals on Wheels from a late summer fundraiser./Courtesy Colette Gentile.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Getting to volunteer with seniors was something we had never done. Being with them has taught us the value of having empathy toward people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. We see how many of them are so lonely and depressed and it has helped open our eyes.  We’ve also become great listeners and have learned the importance of patience.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

We always try to do something special for holidays. We usually wear elf hats or festive attire during our winter holiday visits and hope to visit more often during our school break. My brother came up with the idea of a “Cozy Feet” fundraiser, where we took the proceeds from a bake sale and purchased warm socks and slippers for all of the residents of one of the assisted living facilities we visit most often. The seniors were so surprised and excited. We couldn’t believe how such a small gesture really made a difference. Looking ahead, we are excited to present the last few donations which are still coming in from our fall fundraiser. In the new year we will surely plan another bake sale as well.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

A small group of people can change the world if they do their part. If everyone did a little, it would build so much momentum. Volunteering also has a lot of personal value. When we reflect on our values and passions and do something around them, the whole community benefits.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

We didn’t have many opportunities to volunteer because of our ages. Many organizations won’t accept kids younger than high school. When we first became interested in volunteering, we were 12 and 9, which is considered too young, so we started our own initiative. Whatever you are interested in, there’s a way to help. Reach out to organizations and if you’re too young for that, start something on your own.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

Be kind to your elders. Have empathy and express gratitude to them for paving the way. Remember, they came before you. They deserve to be respected and to be remembered.  You’re never too young to start something that can make a difference.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Colette and Anthony? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Jarmila Gorman