There are several reasons people continue to volunteer at a facility for over twenty-five years: They love the place. They love the staff. And, most of all, they love the people they support.
Just ask Senior Corps-RSVP volunteers Marilyn Hermann and June Wulfert who have a combined 50-plus years of serving at the Lutheran Home for senior living in Arlington Heights. Both have found so many ways to contribute-by engaging with residents through one-on-one visits, setting up group chat sessions, or assisting with entertainment events. They even create crochet and quilt items for the gift shop.
Inspired by her grandmother and mother, both of whom had volunteered at the Lutheran Home when it was known as the Altenheim Home, Marilyn began serving the home in 1982. She started with redesigning flower arrangements leftover from events, which were then redistributed throughout the building. When her mother became a resident in 1994, Marilyn visited regularly, and before long she made friends with others in the home as well. Now, she brightens the days for residents in assisted living, skilled nursing, adult day services and memory loss sections. They all see her as a friend and some consider her a member of the family.
From Tuesday through Saturday, Marilyn leads many of them in activities such as quilting, conversation groups and mind bender games. For conversation groups, she’ll arrive with an agenda-usually subjects related to recent newspaper stories, but avoiding politics-and finds that after a few minutes, the participants often go off on another tangent. Yet, as she says, “It’s so neat when you get them chatting.”
She gears all activities according to residents’ interests and abilities, but those in the memory loss section give her a special joy as they smile up at her when she brings food, introduces games, shows up in costume or plays music.
It doesn’t stop there. Marilyn is often on hand to host events such as the Advent Tea, ice cream socials and fashion shows. At Christmas time, she takes on the role of Mrs. Santa Claus and helps “Santa” when he makes his rounds handing out goodies for the residents and the children at Shepherd’s Flock, the Home’s child day-care facility. When she’s not at the Home, she works behind the scenes, making dish towels (the kind with a quilted top for hanging over handles) for sale in the Lutheran Home Gift Shop. So far, she’s created over 2,300 of them.
What does she enjoy most about her time spent with residents at the Lutheran Home? “I love how they smile when they see me,” Marilyn says. “When I leave, they ask ‘When are you coming back?’ When I arrive home in the late afternoon I’ll often tell my husband, ‘I’ve had the best day.'”
June Wulfert modestly refers to herself as “Marilyn’s sidekick,” but it’s clear that her contributions over the years have been invaluable to the Lutheran Home’s purpose as well. Over the past 25 years, she’s worked with the residents on crafts, quilting and even record keeping and updating bulletin boards. Most of her time is spent setting up and serving for Marilyn’s weekly chat groups. For the residents who may enjoy crocheting or knitting, but have limited skills, June assists them and sees herself as a “set of hands for those whose hands don’t work as well anymore.” Her crocheting and knitting talents are also evident in the Lutheran Home Gift Shop. As with Marilyn, she also creates many of the quilted-top dish towels with the crocheted handles. June enjoys interacting with the Home’s residents, and finds that friendships evolve over the years. Residents who may have started in one section may be transferred to a different nursing area but June is still there for them. “There’s always a need for people like us,” she said.
Lutheran Home volunteer manager Beth Gauthier says of both ladies, “Their years of service to our residents has been a blessing. Everything they do here is wrapped up in kindness…Both have been a wonderful resource for me and have been able to answer any question I have.”
For those who might consider volunteering at the Lutheran Home or similar facilities, both ladies advise, “Come with an open mind and heart and be ready to feel special.”
Written by Janet Souter, Senior Corps-RSVP Member
If interested in volunteering at Lutheran Home, here are two of the many opportunities available for you: