There is something about helping others and making them smile that transcends cultural background, social status, and religious beliefs. Bridge international students have experienced this recently through volunteering. Sunrise Senior Living in Denver hosted Bridge international students for an orientation on volunteering and offered them the opportunity to dedicate some of their time to senior citizens.
Although Bridge international students are usually involved in many activities throughout the year, volunteering at a senior center is a first for them. Here at Bridge, we were pleasantly surprised with the number of students interested in this type of opportunity. Having students surprising us even after 25 years of experience in the field makes our work that much more rewarding and unique.
Our Bridge volunteering coordinators were inundated with requests from students who wanted to engage in activities that not only would make them happy, but that would make others happy as well. Many questions where asked about where students could volunteer, what does volunteering require, and if there are any options close to Bridge that they could participate in. When the Sunrise Senior Living center opportunity was presented to students, the answer was overwhelming.
After the first orientation day at Sunrise, many students chose to return and spend some time with the residents. One of our students, Ammar Alsyed, had much to say about his experience and how he has enjoyed going back: “WOW! This place is awesome and the residents are all very friendly. They have everything they need”. Ammar has been back three other times since the orientation on February 25th. He has played bingo, read books and talked with many residents. Bingo was something new to him and when asked about how the game went, Ammar replied, “ It was fun, I didn’t win, but I got the hang of it from watching the residents”.
Ammar is one of our students who has had volunteer experiences prior to arriving in the United States from Saudi Arabia. He decided to volunteer in order to enrich his experience in the US because he wants “to help other people, to learn more about the American culture in that culture, not just from what I read or what I heard; to be a good leader so that I can help others more. Also, to improve my English; in my religion when you help others, they pray for you and in return good things happen to you.”
When we took the tour of the Sunrise Center on orientation day, Ammar seemed to be a natural around the residents. He wondered around talking to them, introducing himself, asking how their day was going, and making sure that he talked to as many people as possible. When asked what he liked most about volunteering Ammar said, “It makes me happy when the other person is happy”.
Mohammed Saeedi is another student who decided to expand his experience in the US through volunteering. Mohammed has also volunteered before in a clinic for children with cancer. Talking to Mohammed it became easily apparent why he enjoyed going to Sunrise. He is very friendly and he loves being able to talk to people. He was also very impressed with what he saw at Sunrise and said “I had fun helping out with bingo and talking to the residents. I did not expect a Senior Center to be so nice with what they have to offer and the type of residents they care for.”
Although the students who volunteered at Sunrise are not native English speakers, they have nonetheless been able to form relationships with the residents. “The residents were interested in how I spoke Arabic and they want me to teach them some of my language. One of the ladies wants me to meet her son because he works in the Middle East and would like me to teach her some basic vocabulary,” explained Mohammed. Seems like both Bridge students and the senior residents at Sunrise have found fulfillment in spending their time together, learning from each other, and ultimately making each other happy. Mission accomplished!