Chinmayi Balusu talks to her friends about their hobbies and interests. They share a love for the oldies from the 1950s and 60s. The 16-year-old Union City, California student, who heads off to college on the East Coast this fall, often will ask about their careers and life stories.
These friends aren’t your typical teenage friends, however. Chinmayi has fostered relationships with seniors living with dementia, brightening their days by treating them with compassion and dignity. Serving as a youth volunteer at Empire Ranch Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Folsom, California, Chinmayi spends up to 12 hours each month visiting with seniors at the center. While many at the center are dealing with dementia and related memory loss, Chinmayi spends valuable time making patients comfortable, connecting in ways that make seniors smile.
Connecting with a couple dozen seniors in her community through her volunteerism over the last two years, Chinmayi is bringing comfort to those in the final stages of their lives, and is today’s Daily Point of Light award honoree. Points of Light spoke to Chinmayi to learn more about her volunteerism with Empire Ranch.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I enjoy the aspect of giving back. I’m close with people in my community, they’ve given so much to me as I’ve grown up, and volunteering is a way for me to reciprocate that support in a different way.
Describe your role with Empire Ranch Alzheimer’s Special Care Center.
I try to create as much fun as I can for the seniors. I help to conduct group games and activities like Bingo and Pictionary. I help serve snacks and meals, and we’ll go for walks around the courtyard for fresh air. We listen to music and sing together, and I try to make the seniors smile with my jokes. Additionally, I’ve been involved with Alive Inside at Empire Ranch, which is an event for youths to connect with seniors through music. I have served as the student volunteer coordinator at the movie screening event for Alive Inside, and organize the schedules and responsibilities for about 60 student volunteers.
Explain how you’ve connected with seniors through music.
I’ve always been interested in oldies music from the 1950s and 60s, and so I connected with many of the seniors that way. We found songs together that we loved. I created headsets with customized music playlists for local seniors, and personally delivered the headsets to them at their homes.
You’re serving seniors in the final stages of their lives. What does that mean to you?
It really makes my day to go talk to my friends. It’s always amazing to see how happy they are when I say that I’ll come again and see them later. In a way, all my friends at Empire Ranch are kind of like my grandparents. We know each other that well and I’ve formed that emotional bond with them over the years. I absolutely love them, and love seeing the smiles on their faces.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
If volunteering, when you first meet some seniors, they may be guarded because they are unsure of who you are. In my experience, learning to actively listen was so important. By being empathetic, having an open mind and understanding that they’ve had a different journey than someone my age, I was able to better connect with them and help them.
Share one lesson with me that you learned from a senior while volunteering.
I met this one lady who had been a kindergarten teacher. She overcame a number of hurdles to become a teacher, because the profession wasn’t one her family had picked for her. Because she was passionate about her career, she was successful. Fast forward fifty years, and that same struggle of overcoming obstacles to follow your dreams still exists today. I learned that if you want to do something, you should definitely go for it.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Finding a way to connect with people through common ground is really important. By digging deeper, you can find common ground. I realized that I enjoy oldies music just like many of the seniors, but that discovery took many months of listening and patience.
How can readers help?
There are Walks to End Alzheimer’s that take place across the country. You can find one in your community here: https://act.alz.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=walk_homepage. Also, please check out Empire Ranch’s website for more information on how to give back: https://www.jeaseniorliving.com/senior-living/ca/folsom/empire-ranch-alzheimers-special-care-center/.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Chinmayi Balusu? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.